Judge Not, Lest Ye Be Judged

I’m a regular listener to Fox News on Sirius. The grammar is awful, and what the Foxes have to say is often hokey to the nth degree, but it’s better than NPR. One of Fox’s talking heads is Judge Andrew Napolitano, whose exalted title is Senior Judicial Analyst. Judge Napolitano served as a New Jersey Superior Court Judge and now teaches constitutional law, so when he speaks of matters legal, we can regard it as having come from the mouth of God himself, right?

Maybe not. On June 29th, in an interview on Fox News, Judge Napolitano was talking about the shooting and arrest of David Sweat near the Canadian border by a New York State Police sergeant who could actually shoot. Mr. Sweat, you may recall, is an unpleasant person who was convicted of fatally shooting a sheriff’s deputy in 2002. He and his prison pal Richard Matt, a multiple murderer, broke out of Clinton Correctional Facility in Danemora, NY, and led law enforcement officers on a merry chase for 22 days and $20 million.

Matt was shot dead by Border Patrol agents after he had the bad taste to point a 20-gauge shotgun at them. Sweat was shot twice and captured when a State Trooper sergeant named Jay Cook spotted him and gave chase. Seeing that Sweat was about to make it into the woods and over the Canadian border which was only a few miles away, he fired twice, hitting Sweat in the torso.
Judge Napolitano took exception to this. Saith the Judge: "It's unlawful in the State of New York to shoot at a prisoner and it's always unlawful to shoot in the back." The Judge also took exception to the fact that Sweat was unarmed and that the Border Patrolmen killed Matt rather than doing something less and taking him alive.

This did not ring right, so I e-mailed a friend of mine who is a retired chief of detectives and who held a badge in a city in New York State and asked him what the law really is.

According to him, if a civilian shoots a fleeing suspected felon in the back whilst said person is fleeing, he is in a world of trouble, because the alleged felon is not a threat and has not been proved guilty in a court of law. Police, however, have greater latitude of action. David Sweat had been convicted of murder by a jury, and had escaped from prison, and had been proven to be dangerous, gun or no gun. So Sergeant Cook was within the law.

The Judge was dead wrong on that one. He was, however, right about another issue. When asked what kind of a sentence Sweat would get for breaking out of Camp Cucamonga, Napolitano said that there would be a deal cut and no trial on any account, because Governor Andrew Cuomo does not want anyone to hear the testimony that Sweat might give in court. Cuomo had also labeled Sergeant Cook a hero, and to have his hero hauled before the bar for shooting an escaped cop killer would be a little too much for the Gov to bear.

The Governor would make a phone call or two and that would be that, just as someone undoubtedly made a phone call on behalf of David Gregory when he waved an AK magazine in front of a television camera in Washington, D.C., thereby committing a misdemeanor for which he was never charged, and never will be charged.

What moral can we draw from all this? First, if you hear it or read it in the mass media and it concerns firearms law, the chances are excellent that it’s b.s., even if it comes from a judge. Second, all firearms law is political, like the rest of jurisprudence. Third, unless you wear a badge, don’t shoot people in the back. You may get the cell next to David Sweat.

And since we’re on the subject of New York State, here are a couple of developments that have not gotten much publicity, and will probably not get much. Response to that state’s S.A.F.E. act, which was passed in the dark of night, requires registration of all “assault weapons.” Compliance, as far as can be determined, is about 20 percent. Roughly the same figure holds in Connecticut, which has a similar law.

Another part of S.A.F.E required the suspension of internet ammo sales, and the requirement of background checks for over-the-counter ammo purchases. The Governor has just been informed that, given the technology available, neither is possible, and has agreed to changes in the law. You won’t hear about any of this on the major networks. What you will get are stories on three-legged puppies who are given rhumba lessons that they may find homes and overuse of the words “emotional,” “gut-wrenching,” “innocent,” and “terrifying.”

And on Fox, you had the nitwit who, last week, referred to “subjects” of the U.S. government. No, subjects live in a monarchy. We are citizens.

So far, anyway.