I completely agree that it’s wrong to carry concealed weapens without a license. I also agree that if you find a shutgun (or are in possession of one, and want to stop being in possession of it) it’s reasonable to call the police to ask them to pick it up. But there can be millions of reasons why you don’t want the police to pick it up. Maybe you have nosy neighbours. Maybe you simply don’t want to explain to your kids that somebody for some reason put a gun into your trash.
So the behaviour of Paul Clarke, taking a shotgun to the police and handing it in, is perfectly normal and understandable. Yet he got arrested and found guilty of possessing a firearm, a crime that carries a minimum of a five year prison sentence. And that is utterly insane.
What we have here is a case of somebody taking an illegal gun off the streets, and being arrested for it. In other words, he is facing five years of jail for no longer wanting to engage in an illegal activity.
In the twitter storm that resulted some people linked to an article about somebody called Paul Clarke that threatened someone for no reason. Also they point out that his story seems unlikely, and that he probably had the shotgun in possession a long time before, instead of just finding it as he claimed. Let me clarify that this is completely irrelevant. It may be true, and in there was proof of him having the gun in possesion for a long time, then possibly he should have been arrested. But there is no proof of that. Also what he did before should not enter in to this. He is not arrested for being a jerk or an aggressive man.
What is the result of this kind of interpretation of the law? Well, let us look at a question Lee Griffin asked me on twitter: What if Paul Clarke had been mugged on the way to the station and then later used to kill 5 people. Would Paul Clarke still innocent of wrongdoing? Well, in the eyes fo the law, he would. Because he would then have been out of possession of the gun, and not arrested and not convicted of any wrongdoings. Also, continuing to hide the gun from the police would also have been rather safe, unless the police have a habit iof raiding his house. Another good safe bet would be to sell it to some criminal. All of these alternative actions would have kept the illegal gun out there on the streets, and Paul Clarke wouldn’t have been arrested.
His only cause of action if he wants to do the right thing is to tell the police about the weapon. And if he does not want the neighbors excited or the kids worried his only possible action is the go with it to the police station. Which got him arrested. A moral cause of action got him arrested, where an immoral one would not have, even if he had made nothing wrong from the start.
So this is a case where Paul Clarke is convicted of doing the right thing, when doing something wrong would have kept him safe. And that’s why this is insane. It tells people that handing in guns is dangerous. It tells people to not invoke the police. If you get involved or see anything criminal, go home, keep your mouth shut and if you should happen to have anything illegal in your possession, on no account tell the police. Just chuck it in a lake. That’s what it tells people.
Crime may not pay. But if being legal doesn’t pay either, then the base of the law has been undermined.