The Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence put out a press release last week arguing that if Gilbert Arenas, who plays for the Washington Wizards NBA team, did in fact bring guns in to the Verizon Center, well, then he should be “punished to the full extent of the law, including jail time if appropriate.”
Normally it would be uncontroversial to suggest that people who are convicted of breaking the law should be punished. But it’s not always so clear-cut. Many conservatives see gun restrictions in much the same way that some liberals and libertarians see federal marijuana bans: unjust laws that don’t need to be obeyed. (I’m not passing judgment on the relative merits of gun control and the drug war, just saying they incite similar political reactions.)
A few weeks ago I reported on Joshua Bowman, who was arrested near the Capitol during President Barack Obama’s health care speech in September after cops found hunting guns in his car trunk. Bowman is a pretty committed Republican, was a career employee in the Bush White House, and was on his way to hang out with a bunch of congressional Republicans at the Republican Club when he was arrested. The facts of the case suggest that Bowman probably wasn’t intending to harm anyone when he brought his guns to DC. Bowman lives in Virginia and forgot the guns were in his trunk when he consented to a search, his lawyer told me.
Basically, Bowman just made a stupid mistake—he didn’t take the law seriously enough to think about the potential consequences of driving around Capitol Hill during a high-security speech with guns in his car. Some might accuse Arenas (or NFLer Plaxico Burress, who accidentally shot himself with an unregistered handgun and is now in jail) of similar recklessness.
I suspect the same thing is at play with folks who blatantly violate marijuana laws. It takes a truly stupid (and foolish) pothead to get arrested for smoking pot at a police softball game. I sympathize with the idea that some laws are unjust and can be morally disobeyed. But bringing your guns to Capitol Hill, or to the Verizon Center, for that matter, is like getting high in the police station parking lot. It’s just dumb.