Ignorance of the Law Is No Excuse

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A friend of mine recently became a U.S. citizen. Because he is an educated Englishman, language was not an issue. It wasn’t until after his citizenship that he ran into problems.

Becoming a Citizen

He met the initial steps to citizenship believing the process would be easy. He was over 18 years old with good moral character. And he had had a Green Card for more than five years. He could certainly “demonstrate an attachment to the principles and ideals of the U.S. Constitution.”

Then came the test to “demonstrate a basic knowledge of U.S. history, government and civic principles.” He passed* and was sworn in with an “oath of allegiance to the U.S.”

(You can review the process here and take a practice test similar to the one my friend took and that nearly a million others each year must pass to become citizens.)

The Misunderstood Second Amendment Right

There is no question about the Second Amendment in the practice test. That’s a shame because it is currently the most debated and perhaps divisive citizen right — and the most misunderstood. The “drive-by” media, constitutional scholars and neighbors on the street are constantly arguing about it.

To my friend’s delight, he could purchase a handgun and ammo, go to the shooting range whenever he wanted and keep the guns near him at home in case some thug broke in and threatened him. He also found that he could, with relative ease in Colorado, obtain a concealed carry permit.

Nevertheless, my friend discovered that unlike his state-issued driver’s license and marriage license, which are universally recognized, his permit to carry a gun was a very different thing. When he moved to New York, he discovered to his horror (and ultimately to his financial detriment) that simple possession of his Glocks was against the law without another permit. And to obtain a concealed carry permit there would be exceptionally difficult.

A black Walther PPS semi-automatic concealed carry pistol lying on a map of the United States upon which the state of New Mexico has been outlined in white.

Ignorantia juris non excusat. Ignorance of the law is no excuse … especially when traveling with a gun.

Our Federal System

What my friend did not learn from citizenship studies is that the U.S. is a federal republic with multiple layers of semi-independent government. While this is not necessarily true of driver’s licenses — although each state issues its own tests and tags — it is definitely the case with firearms. The Second Amendment seemed clear to him, but he found that his new city and county and state were at odds with other locations (and often each other). This ultimately led to his undoing after being stopped for a traffic violation.

There is an old legal principle: Ignorance of the law is no excuse (in Latin: Ignorantia juris non excusat). The legal position holds that a person who is unaware of a law may not escape liability for violating that law merely because he or she was unaware of its content. Thus, ignorance of the nature of America’s federal republic structure cost my friend his house and property in Colorado as well as his self-employment as a financial specialist. New York even attempted to take his children!

Know the law and beware of politically motivated prosecutors.

* The question he missed on his naturalized citizenship test was: “How many justices make up the U.S. Supreme Court?” Do you know the correct answer?

 

About Rick Sapp

Richard “Rick” Sapp was a U.S. Army infantry platoon leader until recruited to the 66th Military Intelligence Group. There, he worked with the West German KRIPO (Criminal Police) at Czechoslovakian border stations during the Soviet invasion of 1968.

Returning to the U.S., he earned a Ph.D. in social anthropology after studies at the U.S. Air Force Academy, Catholic University of America and the University of Florida, following which he moved to Paris, France, for a year.

After four years with the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service, he turned to journalism and freelance writing, specializing in outdoor features. His journalism experience includes newspapers and magazines. He has authored more than 50 books for a variety of international publishers.

Rick is married and lives in Florida.

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