Ruling Confirms Problems With "Assault Weapons" Law
Friday, May 4, 2001
After Ten Months, Police Officer is Cleared of Possessing an "Assault Weapon."
Riverside, California. On Monday, April 30, 2001, a Riverside Superior Court Judge dismissed all criminal charges against Steven O`Connor, a Desert Hot Springs Police Officer who had been charged with illegally possessing an unregistered "assault weapon." The "Maadi" rifle was in fact not an unregistered "assault weapon" under California law, but it took ten months and intervention by the California Attorney General`s Office for the District Attorney to realize it.
"This case illustrates how complicated California`s `assault weapons` laws are. Even the police and prosecutors don`t understand them," said Chuck Michel, O`Connor`s attorney. "The sole reason this case took ten months and thousands of dollars in attorney`s fees to resolve is that even the police and the District Attorney`s office - the enforcers of the law - could not distinguish a legal firearm from an illegal `assault weapon`."
O`Connor, who was featured in a nationally broadcast NRA infomercial about problems with California`s firearms laws, was charged with possession of an unregistered "assault weapon" in June 10, 2000. He was relieved of duty and is still fighting to get his job back. The charge was brought under the 1989 "assault weapon" law, which lists "assault weapons" by make and model, even though O`Connor`s gun was not on the list. Although California`s gun control laws are ostensibly not meant to expose law-abiding citizens to the scrutiny, emotional trauma, and expense that Officer O`Connor has endured over the past ten months, their ill-defined terms invite misapplication and continue to lead to these types of wrongful prosecutions. Dozens of other Californians have also been unjustly accused. Officer O`Connor was not the first, and unfortunately will not be the last.
"This is an ideal time to reflect on how `sensible` it is to pass laws that are so ambiguous and complicated that even those charged with the responsibility of enforcing the laws cannot properly interpret how to apply them." Officer O`Connor says. "If this could happen to me, a police officer, it could happen to anyone."
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