California legislators are congratulating themselves for legislation to curb police seizures of property from people who haven’t been convicted of crimes – and for a change, their celebration is justified.
Federal and state authorities have run amok on “civil forfeitures,” particularly in drug cases – seemingly more interested in enriching their agencies than in actually going after those doing harm.
The compromise legislation requires convictions before seizing assets of less than $40,000. It should have gone further, but that’s the best legislators could get from police and prosecutor groups.
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It upholds bedrock constitutional rights, such as prohibiting unreasonable searches and seizures and guaranteeing the right to trial, that the nation’s founders enshrined because of abuses by a despotic colonial government.
As welcome as the legislation may be, one wonders whether our politicians are just as committed to protecting other individual rights.
It was dismaying to see congressional Democrats, led by California Sen. Dianne Feinstein, demanding that anyone on the federal government’s “no-fly list” be denied the right to buy firearms.
It was a double violation of Americans’ civil rights.
The no-fly list itself violates the principle that someone should be formally convicted of a crime, or found to be dangerous in a civil proceeding, before facing onerous governmental sanctions.
No one outside of the government knows how names get on the list. Rep. Tom McClintock said he found his name on the list when serving in the Legislature and had to go to extreme lengths to get it removed.
And, of course, the law that Feinstein championed, and her fellow Democrats demanded, also would violate the constitutional right to peacefully own firearms. That’s why it drew opposition from the National Rifle Association and the American Civil Liberties Union.
California Assemblyman Mike Gatto, D-Los Angeles, proposed a state version of Feinstein’s measure in the wake of a mass killing in San Bernardino, saying, “it does make sense to make sure that the people who have been deemed too dangerous to even board a quick flight to Vegas, that they are not allowed to go out there and buy guns and chemicals en masse.”
To his credit, however, Gatto cooled off a few weeks later, and dropped the measure, saying, “After conferring (with) respected constitutional scholars (right and left), I have decided not to carry (a) bill on involving no-fly list in gun purchases.”
Nevertheless, the current legislative session has bristled with measures to make gun ownership by Californians more difficult and/or more expensive, and Lt. Gov. Gavin Newsom is sponsoring a ballot measure that would go even further.
The same politicians who are patting themselves on the back for upholding the constitutional rights of suspected drug dealers vis-à-vis property seizures are more than willing to attack, if not violate, the rights of law-abiding gun owners with pettifogging restrictions.
They are doing so, they say, in the name of battling “gun violence,” disregarding an authoritative study by University of Pittsburgh researchers, published in The Washington Post, concluding that in the vast majority of gun crimes, the criminal is not a lawful gun owner.
One either believes in constitutionally protected civil rights or one doesn’t. Politicians shouldn’t honor just those that comport with their personal proclivities.