Ignorance of the Law Is No Excuse (Unless You’re in Law Enforcement)

Article by Radley Balko.


Mike Lawlor, undersecretary for criminal justice policy and planning for the state of Connecticut, joins the ranks of other public officials who are choosing to simply ignore those rights they don’t believe citizens should have.

“In almost every situation you can imagine this happening in, it qualifies as breach of peace,” he said. “If you walk into a restaurant with a gun it’s almost by definition a breach of peace.”

That results in an arrest and sets in motion a chain of events that usually results in the revocation of an issued pistol permit, he said. And that’s the way it should be, Lawlor said. Anyone who walks into a McDonalds plainly carrying a firearm either intends to alarm people or is irresponsible, he said.

Here’s the problem: If you have a permit, it’s perfectly legal to walk into a McDonalds in Connecticut while plainly carrying a firearm. As Gideon notes, the problem is that too many cops in Connecticut simply don’t know the law. Lawlor’s solution isn’t to educate them, but to come up with creative (and baseless) applications of other laws that allow cops to continue to violate the rights of Connecticut citizens who exercise their right to carry. Gideon’s analogy to the camera issue is spot-on. Because exercising this particular right tends to upset police officers, and because police officers aren’t aware of the law, the state officials in charge of law enforcement have chosen to simply not give a damn about protecting this particular right. If a citizen exercising his rights combined with a cops’ ignorance of the law results in a “breach of the peace,” Lawlor’s conclusion is that the proper thing to do is charge you for breaching the peace. It’s an abhorrent and lazy mindset that forgets everything about who serves who in a free society. In a just world, Lawlor would be resigning over it.

And he isn’t alone. Law enforcement officials in Milwaukee and Philadelphia have expressed similar sentiments, and without much consequence.

I suppose if there’s an upside to all of this, it’s that when someone in one of these jurisdictions does inevitably sue, they’ll be able to show that the violation of their rights was systematic, and part of an ongoing policy. Unfortunately, when they win, the payout will come from taxpayers, not from the pockets of clueless public officials like Lawlor.

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