Drug War

How You Get Two Years for Firing a Shotgun at a Shooting Range

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White House

Last month Dallas Anthony received a two-year prison sentence for firing a shotgun at an outdoor shooting range in Charles City, Virginia. To understand why, you have to understand how drug prohibition, mandatory minimums, and stupid gun laws interact to produce absurd results.

Four years ago, Anthony was caught with a small amount of marijuana and two bottles of painkillers. He pleaded guilty to felony possession of a controlled substance and received a suspended three-year sentence. But under state and federal law, that felony conviction barred Anthony from possessing firearms. Anthony broke that rule by firing his father's shotgun at the Chickahominy Wildlife Management Area's shooting range one Sunday afternoon last January. Virginia imposes a two-year mandatory minimum sentence on people who violate the ban on gun possession within 10 years of their original conviction, no matter how brief or innocent the possession and no matter the nature of the first felony. So after Anthony pleaded guilty to that offense in June, he had no hope of avoiding prison.

In addition to the two-year prison sentence, the Hopewell News & Patriot reports, Anthony "will be placed on indefinite supervised probation upon his release for up to 10 years, during which an officer may search his property or vehicle at any time." Furthermore, "Anthony is to remain drug and alcohol free while on probation and submit to random drug and alcohol testing." Should he have a drink or a puff of pot during that time and get caught, he could go back to prison.

So here is Anthony, a two-time felon at 23, stripped of his Second Amendment rights, locked in a cage for two years, and treated like a child or as long as a decade afterward. All without committing an actual crime.

Anthony's lawyer, Patricia Nagel, called the case "a prime example" of why judges should have discretion in sentencing, although she said she didn't "want to be in a position of second-guessing the legislature." Allow me. The idea that felons should forever be prohibited from possessing guns is debatable even in the case of real criminals (especially if their crimes did not involve firearms); it is utterly unjust and inane when applied to someone like Anthony, who as far as the government knows is not a threat to anyone. Virginia's blindly punitive legislators have gone even further, decreeing that harmless people should not only lose their constitutional rights but should go to prison, no questions asked, for trying to exercise them.

[Thanks to Mike Riggs for the tip.]