Washington Sup. Court on right to arms
From the Volokh Conspiracy comes a note of yesterday's Washington Supreme Court ruling touching upn the right to arms.
At issue was, in a prosecution for an overly short-barrelled shotgun (in popular parlance, a sawed-off shotgun), the State must prove the defendant *knew* the barrel was too short, or whether it's absolute strict liability. In reasoning that the offense wasn't strict liability, the court said:
"[W]e are ... concerned that possessing a firearm can be innocent conduct. Citizens have a constitutional right to bear arms under both the federal and state constitutions. U.S. Const. amend. II; Wash. Const. art. I, § 24. A person may lawfully own a shotgun so long as the barrel length is more than 18 inches in length and has an overall length of less than 26 inches. RCW 9.41.190 precludes possession of a short-barreled shotgun. Moreover, the statute also criminalizes possession of a short-barreled rifle and a machine gun. The factor concerned with innocent conduct is particularly important in the case of a machine gun, which can be altered in ways not easily observable. If strict liability is imposed, a person could innocently come into the possession of a shotgun, rifle, or weapon meeting the definition of a machine gun but then be subject to imprisonment, despite ignorance of the gun's characteristics, if the barrel turns out to be shorter than allowed by law or the weapon has been altered, making it a machine gun. The legislature likely did not intend to imprison persons for such seemingly innocent conduct."
The court concluded that the State had to prove that the person knew or had reason to know that the shotgun's barrel was under 18", but it need not prove that the person knew that was the legal limit. Since the barrel here was 13" long, the court ruled it was harmless error, since any person would have known that something that size was under 18", and upheld the conviction.