Serving the law can circumvent justice
It is easy to forget just how bureaucratic our lives have become — until it runs up against our common sense.
Then it reminds us all of how heavy the hand of government can be.
This week, the Honolulu Star-Advertiser reported that legal marijuana users in the state have been receiving letters from the Honolulu Police Department ordering them to turn in their legally owned firearms.
The reason cited is a Hawaii statute that reads, “No person who is a fugitive from justice or is a person prohibited from possessing firearms or ammunition under federal law shall own, possess, or control any firearm or ammunition therefor.”
Federal law treats marijuana as a controlled substance, and under federal law, "unlawful users" of controlled substances cannot own firearms.
The letter from Honolulu Police Chief Susan Ballard informed recipients that their legal use of medical marijuana disqualifies them from owning ammunition or firearms, and instructs them to surrender them or transfer ownership of their ammunition and firearms within 30 days.
The fact that people engaging in a lawful activity will be prohibited from keeping their lawfully obtained firearms understandably produced an outcry.
But before rushing to condemn Chief Ballard — who has, at least, demonstrated that she's a public official who takes the law seriously — we should consider what this tells us about bureaucracy and freedom.
The clear victim in this scenario is "We the People." One of our civil rights — here the one supposedly ensured by the Second Amendment — has been caught in the crosshairs of bureaucracy. The police chief and her department are performing as mere functionaries, not called on to reflect upon the justice of the laws they enforce.
This is the age-old story told in the classic French essay "The Executioner of Paris." At the end of his career, the executioner, a public official, reflects back upon how excellently and professionally he carried out his duties. Irrespective of the fact that thousands of the men and women he had executed were victims of unjust laws, he carried out his role to execute the laws with distinction.
To say the least, he was proud of the fact that he was a model bureaucrat.
Outrageous situations like this let us see that it doesn't require malice or bad intent to deprive people of their rights. After the outcry, the Honolulu Police Department said it will be reviewing its policy on marijuana use and gun ownership.
But this isn't the end of bureaucratic encroachment on civil rights.
At the Grassroot Institute of Hawaii, our independence from the system gives us the role of questioning bureaucracy — because unchecked government can quickly chip away at liberty.
E hana kakou (Let’s work together!),
Keli'i Akina, Ph.D.
President/CEO Grassroot Institute