Thomas Jefferson Didn't Own An AR-15

Have you bought your AR-15 yet? Do you have enough ammunition? Are you ready to shoot your way to freedom and security? And what about a stockpile of food, and reserves of water? How long can you hold out on your own when the end comes, or when the tyrants in Washington come goose-stepping to your front door?

Press accounts of the long lines at gun dealers’ shops nationwide reflect gun and ammunition prices are soaring. A friend even saw her doctor standing on line to buy a gun on a news clip. It’s like a collective psychosis. Just what are we preparing for?

When I was in grade school in Chicago we were required to participate in safety drills. An alarm would go off, and we’d all be required to huddle under our desks. You see, the Russians might launch a nuclear weapon. The blast would be ferocious, we were told: it would destroy everything. We needed to look away from the windows to avoid being blinded by the flash or having our eyes filled with shards of glass.

I learned fear and paranoia with my ABCs.

In hindsight, the safety drills seem almost silly. Come the holocaust, what were the odds that we’d survive if our city were blown to smithereens? Indeed, who’d want to survive a nuclear winter, in a world in which civilization was destroyed and only zombies stalked the earth?

I imagined living through the blasts, and being one of the few folks left alive. I’d find a car, learn to drive it, and head to Washington, D.C., where a stash of secret papers would undoubtedly explain just how and why the human race had decided to destroy itself. I guess I assumed that someone was in control, that there was an inchoate sense to the world, and to events, and that I could learn what it was. I’m older now, and realize just how silly the fantasy of order really was.

What fantasies of survival elementary do kids tell themselves today as we arm ourselves in preparation for, well, what exactly?

Listening to gun advocates, we need to arm ourselves as an act of patriotic necessity. Evil tyrants lurk, or so we are told. Joshua Barton, a former Marine, found his fifteen minutes of fame writing an angry letter to House Majority Leader Diane Feinstein. “I will not register my weapons,” he tells her. He won’t tell the government how many weapons he owns. “I am a patriot,” not a servant, subject or a peasant, he says.

And what of Alex Jones? He started a petition to deport television personality Piers Morgan because Morgan, a British national, is calling for gun control. “We [started the petition] to point out that this is globalism and the mega banks that control the planet and brag that they’ve taken over in Bloomberg, AP, Reuters, you name it, brag that they are going to get our guns as well,” Jones barked on national television. Uh, Alex. Did you forget the Trilateral Commission and the Protocols of the Elders of Zion?

A good friend of mine, a criminal defense lawyer, told me the other day that his guns would have to be pried from his cold, dead fingers. Another gun advocate recently threatened to shoot to kill anyone who touched his guns. Continued...

All this looks more like collective madness: Just how many times must I be able to imagine killing my neighbor before I can put my head down on the pillow for a good night’s sleep?

Barton’s letter is a twisted farce, not a patriot’s prayer. Students of classics will recognize him as a stereotype drawn from Plato’s Republic: he’s got plenty of spirit, but little sense, a perfect guardian in arms, but lacking the sense to govern. He looks like a corporate stooge.

Gun manufacturers are having a field day. Shares in publicly traded gun companies have doubled and tripled in value in recent weeks. Gun store owners are selling their stock as quickly as it arrives. There is profit to be made in arming us to the teeth and telling us that guns are good for us, as American as Jefferson, Hamilton and even George Washington themselves.

All this patriotic double talk about guns obscures a larger truth: The sometime patriots who arm themselves against a tyrant are often the same people who complain bitterly about big government. Yet, I cannot recall the last time a gun was used in an act of political violence or resistance. In other words, when you call the armed patriot’s bluff, you learn quickly enough that all this talk about guns and liberty is simply white noise.

When Arizona Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords was shot in Arizona in 2011, my first reaction was: “It’s about time.” I wasn’t rooting for her death or for mayhem, but it struck me that the rage and frustration of the millions of forgotten Americans locked out of their homes, health care and the American dream might have erupted to the point of forcing violent change. History is made of such stuff, after all. Real patriots sometimes bleed. But it turned out that Giffords’ shooter was mentally ill.

An observation of Ted Rall’s strikes me as apt. European social legislation is generally more progressive because European history is far longer and more violent than ours: The bloodlines of the ruling elite in Europe have from time to time bled in response to social revolution. We simply don’t revolt in the United States.

Of course, there was the American Revolution, but a revolution of slave owners and propertied colonists against a distant overload is hardly a social revolution.

Today’s gun patriots are corporate dupes. They are arming themselves out of fear of one another. They say they’re worried about tyranny, but not a one of them is serious about social change. Big government and big corporations pull the strings of the death economy. Somehow, they’ve managed to sell us destruction draped in a flag.

I’m not buying. I just don’t see Thomas Jefferson hawking AK-47s, and, if he were to do so, I’d say so much the worse for him.

Reprinted courtesy of the Journal Register Company.


Trial Lawyers Need Not Apply?

IF you or a loved one needed life-saving surgery, would you choose a surgeon who had only read the textbook, or would you want a doctor who’d performed surgeries?

You’d select a person who hadn’t just mastered the texts, but also had mastered the craft.

 Answer this question, then: Why, when it comes to the selection of judges, do we almost routinely say experience doesn’t matter? Trial lawyers, the folks who read the law and then march into a courtroom to try to use what they’ve read to help a real, living, breathing person in need, rarely get to the bench.

 Consider the highest court in the land, the U.S. Supreme Court. It is composed of nine justices, appointed for life. As near as I can tell, only one of them, Sonya Sotomayor, ever stood in the well of the court and asked a jury for justice — and when she did so, it was decades ago as a prosecutor.

There is no one on the high court with any experience defending people accused of crimes. Most of the justices attended either Harvard or Yale universities, clerked for other justices, and then worked in big law firms, academia or the government before their appointment to the bench. Brilliant theoreticians all, but practice conceived isn’t theory relieved.

 The law is not like mathematics. There aren’t “right” answers to most of the questions in a courtroom. Practitioners know the standard for evaluating whether a judge’s ruling on the admissibility of evidence isn’t the one used in a mathematics exam — correct or incorrect. One of the great misconceptions about the law is that it is a vast Platonic system, with legal doctrines serving the role of variables in justice’s unchanging equation.

 The truth is that appellate courts evaluate the evidentiary rulings of trial court judges by asking whether the judge abused his or her discretion: There’s a lot of wiggle room in the law’s formulas. It is accepted and understood by the courts that there often is not a single right answer. Rather, a range of responses is appropriate.

 Given the broad discretion judges have, experience matters, no doubt about it.

 Unless you are the CEO or a large corporation, the president of a university, a law professor or a trust-fund baby, it should bother you that so many of judges are selected from the ranks of privilege. When you stand asking for justice, wouldn’t you rather face a jurist who experiences the same challenges you face?

U.S. Sens. Richard Blumenthal and Christopher Murphy now are interviewing candidates to fill a vacancy on the U.S. District Court in Connecticut. This is a lifetime appointment.


 By custom, the senior senator in the president’s party forwards to the White House the name of nominees to the federal bench in a given state. The president nominates a candidate, and the Senate either confirms the candidate or not.

In recent years, confirmation hearings have become partisan blood sport — proving yet again, as though proof were necessary, that the selection of judges is a political act steeped in values, not a mathematical exercise.

 Sadly, the selection of nominees for the federal trial bench is a secret process.

 Just before Christmas, Richard Kehoe, an aide to Blumenthal, sent emails to the Connecticut Bar Association and the Connecticut Trial Lawyers Association announcing that interested parties should contact him if they want to become a judge. Interviews are scheduled at an undisclosed location Jan. 25-26, according to one email.

 The last time interviews for a federal judgeship were in Connecticut, a secret committee conducted them on behalf of the senators. Applicants were required to sign confidentiality agreements. No one was to disclose the names of the committee members, the questions asked during interviews or, I suspect, the names of the other candidates.

Among the committee members were a Yale law professor or two, and a jurist with long-standing connections to Yale. I don’t know whether any Legal Aid lawyers or criminal defense lawyers were on the committee: I suspect there were none. Most of the committee members, if not all, were either big-firm/big-money or academic/judicial types whose idea of defense is protecting either a fat wallet or an institution’s prerogative.

 The secrecy of these proceedings is offensive. It’s only justification can be that candidates will not come forward unless their interest in the position is kept confidential: after all, how many clients would be happy to learn their lawyer is looking for another job?

 But politics being what it is, the names of candidates are routinely leaked to the press by the very political operatives who require confidentiality. The identity of the top couple candidates are given to the state’s top papers as part of the vetting process.

 Walk into a federal courtroom and you are at once overcome with the dignity and majesty of the law. Defending people accused of crimes is a high calling.

Go ahead and scoff at the notion. When you or a loved one is accused, you will want a lawyer who views his or her job as the ultimate in law enforcement — you cannot take my client’s life or liberty without obeying every jot and every tittle of what the law requires. No matter how horrible the allegation, the law is at its best when it is put to the test in defense of the accused.


 But why in a judicial system giving judges such enormous discretion in how to apply the rules do we ignore criminal defense lawyers when it comes time to appointing judges? What institutional imperative requires that only those who understand, love and have served the imperatives of corporations, government and large institutions should be given this lifetime, plum appointment?

 Why not open the nomination process to plain view? Why not solicit nominees from the public at large? Why not a criminal defense lawyer on the federal bench?

I don’t have answers. Perhaps Richard Kehoe, Blumenthal’s aide, does. Call and ask him. His telephone number is 860-258-6490.

Reprinted courtesy of the Journal Register Company.



About Norm Pattis

Norm Pattis is a Connecticut based trial lawyer focused on high stakes criminal cases and civil right violations. He is a veteran of more than 100 jury trials, many resulting in acquittals for people charged with serious crimes, multi-million dollar civil rights and discrimination verdicts, and scores of cases favorably settled.

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I believe that the state is a necessary fiction and that failing to combat it is the first step toward tyranny.
– Norm Pattis


Nothing in this blog should be considered legal advice about your case. You need a lawyer who understands the context of your life and situation. What are offered here are merely suggested lines of inquiry you may explore with your lawyer.

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