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I Am Meredith Graves
When it comes to guns, the law-abiding get criminal treatment.

New York City’s 9/11 Memorial — scene of the Meredith Graves incident

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Kevin D. Williamson

I fully expect that Meredith Graves will do time for having had the bad sense to attempt to exercise certain God-given and unalienable rights at a place in which they were famously attacked. While I have enjoyed the back-and-forth between Robert VerBruggen and the others on the legal and constitutional questions of interstate concealed-carry protocols, I enjoy them the way I enjoy watching a tennis match: The skill involved in the volleys is impressive, but it is only a game. Our Second Amendment jurisprudence, like our First Amendment jurisprudence, seems to me to be simply an unprincipled political fight. We should heed the wisdom of Roy Cohn: “Don’t tell me what the law is, tell me who the judge is.”

Rather than weigh in on the legal questions, let me offer another view: I am Meredith Graves. At least, I have found myself in a very similar situation, but had a very different outcome.

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During my time as a newspaper editor in Philadelphia, I was a beneficiary of Pennsylvania’s sensibly liberal concealed-carry laws, which make it easier to get a packing permit in the Keystone State than in Texas. There are many reasons that people in particular professions carry guns: They work late, they have to travel to dodgy areas, they carry lots of money. Two of those three things (alas, only two) are true for newspaper editors, who also have the obligation to sometimes publish things that people would rather not see published. (That usually is not about politics or public controversy—it’s about some guy who doesn’t want his boss or his estranged wife’s divorce attorney to read about his drunk-driving arrest in the newspaper.) For that reason, grabbing my Glock 27 in the morning became as habitual as grabbing my keys and my cell phone. It was routine.

So routine, in fact, that I sometimes forgot that I was carrying it, until something reminded me. That was the case when I was standing in line to take some visitors to see the Liberty Bell. Like Meredith Graves, I told the security guys that I had a license to carry a gun, that I was in fact carrying one, and asked them what they’d like me to do with it. They were typical government employees, of course, struck dumb by any unexpected turn of events.

“You can’t take that into the pavilion.”

“Well, of course, I’d expected not. Is there a place where I can check it?”

“You can’t take that into the pavilion.”

“Yes, got that the first time. What would you like me to do with it?”

“You can’t take that into the pavilion.”

“I can’t exercise my constitutionally guaranteed liberty here at the Liberty Bell?”

“You can’t take that into the pavilion.”

“Knock, knock.”

“You can’t take that into the pavilion.”

“. . .”

“You can’t take that into the pavilion.”

Etc.

They didn’t arrest me; they only bored me. In the event, I put the gun into my briefcase and checked my briefcase in with the valet’s desk at a nearby hotel. I suppose if the Park Service guys had been feeling froggy, they might have arrested me.

If you live in Philadelphia, your daily business can easily take you into the neighboring states of Delaware and New Jersey. You’re especially likely to end up in Delaware if you miss the exit to my favorite shooting range in the Philadelphia suburbs. I suppose I was liable for arrest on a couple of dozen occasions, some with more premeditation than others.

In New York City, I have a special disadvantage: Not only do the Powers That Be refuse to recognize any out-of-state permits, they won’t recognize a New York State permit, either: The city insists upon its own permits. (And the very best of luck getting one of those.)

Some will object: “You two should have known better. You should have made sure in advance that you were in compliance with the local law at all times.” And there’s something to that. (A Man for All Seasons and all that.) On the other hand, Meredith Graves and I are Americans, and the American government exists at our sufferance, not the other way around, and it sometimes needs to be reminded of that fact, especially when it is acting capriciously and incompetently, which is the rule when it comes to firearms and crime.

Our dear friends at the New York Times once did something useful, conducting a study of the city’s murders between 2003 and 2005. More than 90 percent of the murderers — and half the victims — had criminal records. But the government cannot be bothered to keep them under control, and instead set them loose to commit 1,662 homicides (or, to be more precise, almost all of those 1,662 homicides), but you can be confident that Meredith Graves will be locked up, because it is far easier to lock up law-abiding types such as Meredith Graves than it is to police the criminals who actually do the murders and muggings. This isn’t a question of whether the government’s behavior is constitutional or unconstitutional, but of whether the government’s behavior constitutes government, of whether it makes any sense at all, and of whether government can establish elementary priorities and exercise elementary discretion. I think that an answer to those questions has here been indicated strongly.



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