The more time recedes from the Founding Era, the more the United States’ “Constitutional” framework appears to be a mere sinecure, a set-piece used to placate the bulk of Americans with empty theatrical slogans while the political stage managers and directors do whatever they damn well please. And each decade seems to demonstrate that the problem is becoming more acute, and our liberties are under greater and greater attack.
Hence, we see Virginia’s bill SB64, which will officially be heard in January, 2020, and is actually a set of amendments to existing code, “§18.2-433.2 of the Code of Virginia, relating to paramilitary activities; penalty”.
Its key changes appear subtle, but they are massively significant and claim for the state the power to interpret how free speech, firearms training, martial arts training, and even public marching might play a part in what the government considers “civil disorder”.
In fact, the bill could turn firearm instructors and martial arts teachers into outlaws.
This is not hyperbole. The language of this “guilt through interpretation” power-grab is so ambiguous, it could have been written by members of the Supreme Soviet or the inner echelon of the German National Socialists in 1933.
The first key provision reads:
(A person is guilty of unlawful paramilitary activity, punishable as a Class 5 felony if he:) 1. Teaches or demonstrates to any other person the use, application, or making of any firearm, explosive, or incendiary device, or technique capable of causing injury or death to persons, knowing or having reason to know or intending that such training will be employed for use in, or in furtherance of, a civil disorder.
The second key provision reads:
(A person is guilty of unlawful paramilitary activity, punishable as a Class 5 felony if he:) 2. Assembles with one or more persons for the purpose of training with, practicing with, or being instructed in the use of any firearm, explosive, or incendiary device, or technique capable of causing injury or death to persons, intending to employ such training for use in, or in furtherance of, a civil disorder.
And the third key provision reads:
(A person is guilty of unlawful paramilitary activity, punishable as a Class 5 felony if he:) 3. Assembles with one or more persons with the intent of intimidating any person or group of persons by drilling, parading, or marching with any firearm, any explosive or incendiary device, or any components or combination thereof.
The Democrats in control of the VA legislature and Executive Branch might tell concerned citizens that this set of amendments merely punishes people who knowingly aid those who engage in “paramilitary” armed violence, including hand-to-hand aggression, or who knowingly assemble with other armed people in order to “intimidate” a person or group.
What the bill actually allows the state do to is a completely different matter.
And that hinges on the words “intimidating” and "intent".
Intimidation is such a subjective term as to make it very difficult to define in jurisprudence. As such, it usually requires some form of written or verbal threat that indicates an intended outcome of said "intimidation".
In British Common Law, “intent” would have had to have been clearly stated by the suspect in order for a jury to find him or her guilty of plotting a crime. But in contemporary America “intent” is “interpreted” or “inferred” by the government-run courts based to what are known as “general intent” and “specific intent”.
Most crimes require general intent, meaning that the prosecution must prove only that the accused meant to do an act prohibited by law. Whether the defendant intended the act’s result is irrelevant.
That’s a bit of a problem, particularly in areas where statutes punish people for engaging in activity that literally harms no other person. Hence, any anti-gun law prohibiting people from ownership or trade of a firearm or accessory could make peaceful people criminals under this “general” standard, despite the fact that the possession of a firearm is not an aggressive act that brings harm to any other person – and, of course, despite the obvious facts that people are supposed to have rights to keep and bear arms and that the Second Amendment prohibits all governments in the US from infringing on that right.
“Specific intent” is less deferential to the changeable whims of each court or set of politicians, but it is still problematic. As Nolo observes:
Specific intent crimes typically require that the defendant intentionally commit an act and intend to cause a particular result when committing that act. (U.S. v. Blair, 54 F.3d 639 (10th Cir. 1995).) In that regard, merely knowing that a result is likely isn’t the same as specifically intending to bring it about. (Thornton v. State, 397 Md. 704 (2007).)
As one can see, specific intent comes a bit closer to the original understanding of “criminal intent”, as in expressing that one plans to bring harm to another individual. But even here, it is utterly essential to see how far US so-called “justice” has strayed from Common Law, and how the very use of “intent” is a slippery slope down which states tread at the risk of Natural Rights.
Under an original understanding of Natural Rights, a crime is defined as an action that brings direct harm to the life or property of another person. If a Common Law jury determined such was the case, the defendant would be found guilty and required to pay restorative reparations to the aggrieved individual or his family – and the guilty party might be imprisoned to keep him or her away from future potential victims.
But because juries often encounter cases in which someone harmed the life or property of another without premeditatively meaning to, the practice of trying to divine “intent” has grown, decade after decade, century after century, leaving state politicians who now write the statutes a lot of wiggle room to tell juries how they have to “interpret” intent.
And that brings us back to Virginia’s SB64, which is a perfect example of how politicians with anti-rights predilections appear willing to game the system in order to frighten people into not exercising their inherent rights to self-defense, voluntary contract, and assembly.
SB64 will not only punish people who march for the Second Amendment, or teach or learn martial arts or firearms use, all based on what the state says is an “intent” to harm others or to cause/further a “civil disorder” (which is, itself, a slippery term left to the government to decide). SB64 does not distinguish between “general” and “specific” intent, thus allowing the state to punish people who offer training but whom the state simply declares should have been aware that those they trained would commit harm or cause/further a “civil disorder”.
In other words, if you teach someone how to safely handle a pistol, and that person uses it in a crime, you’ll be in legal jeopardy, because now the state can haul you into court, charge you with a felony, and claim that you knew the “intent” of the person, as the politicians want to define it.
Is it any wonder why supporters of individual liberty hold collectivists in contempt?
This bill likely will pass, and it will be up to clear-minded folks everywhere to expose how underhanded and dangerous it is.