WASHINGTON, D.C. — In the capital city of the Land of the Free, a businessman and his family were subjected to a violent paramilitary raid for suspicion of exercising one of the freedoms enumerated in the Bill of Rights. Nearly 3 dozen armed SWAT agents held the family at gunpoint and even used a battering ram to rip a naked child out of the shower. The incredible use of force was initiated because of D.C.’s infamous gun control laws. Even more shocking is the fact that the homeowner could still be put in federal prison, despite the fact that not a single firearm was found in his home.
At around 8:20 p.m. on July 7, 2012, about 30 officers in full tactical gear came banging on the front door of Mark Witaschek, a successful financial adviser, brandishing a search warrant for “firearms and ammunition … gun cleaning equipment, holsters, bullet holders and ammunition receipts,” according to The Washington Times. Once Mr. Witaschek’s 14-year-old daughter allowed the officers inside, they immediately began pointing firearms at everyone in the home, starting with Mr. Witaschek and his girlfriend, Bonnie Harris. Both were upstairs when they were accosted and handcuffed.
Mr. Witaschek described the treatment of his children to The Washington Times. “They used a battering ram to bash down the bathroom door and pull [my 16-year-old son] out of the shower, naked,” said Witaschek. “The police put all the children together in a room, while we were handcuffed upstairs. I could hear them crying, not knowing what was happening.”
Officers were as gentle with Witaschek’s belongings as they were with his family. “They tossed the place,” he told The Washington Times, and provided unreleased photos of the damage to his home which he estimated at $10,000.
For all this trouble, officers seized four items from the home:
- one handgun holster
- one spent brass casing of .270 caliber ammunition
- one box of Knight bullets for muzzle-loading rifles
- one live round of 12-gauge shotgun ammunition (which Witaschek claims was an inoperable shell that misfired years earlier, kept as a souvenir)
A Pattern of Harassment
This was not Witaschek’s first encounter with D.C. police either. In June 2012, Witaschek acquiesced to a search of his home by officers from the Gun Recovery Unit. That search turned up a box of .40 caliber ammunition, one gun-cleaning kit, and an antique Colt revolver that police confiscated, even though antique firearms are legal and do not require registration.
After all, in Washington D.C., it is illegal to own firearms without first registering them with the police, and only registered gun owners can legally possess ammunition. This could be the reason Witaschek chose to store his firearms with his sister Sylvia, who lives in Arlington, VA. She was also confronted in her home by D.C. police, whom she refused to allow to view the firearms, just two weeks after the June raid of her brother’s home. The next day, they returned with Arlington County police and a criminal subpoena.
Both police spokesman Gwendolyn Crump and Attorney General of the District of Columbia Irvin Nathan, who signed an affidavit in support of a warrant to arrest Witaschek on August 21, 2012, would not provide any further information on the raid or the case.
Attorney General Nathan has tried his best to get Mr. Witaschek to accept a plea deal, but Witaschek refused. “It’s the principle,” he told Emily Miller of The Washington Times. Witaschek faces charges of unlawful possession of ammunition and can face jail time if convicted.
A Law Fit For a Police State
To understand just how draconian this prohibition is, we need to look at the law itself — which is almost unbelievable to someone unfamiliar with the police state in D.C. But here it is, according to D.C. Code § 7-2506.01:
(a) No person shall possess ammunition in the District of Columbia unless:
(1) He is a licensed dealer pursuant to subchapter IV of this unit;
(2) He is an officer, agent, or employee of the District of Columbia or the United States of America, on duty and acting within the scope of his duties when possessing such ammunition;
(3) He is the holder of the valid registration certificate for a firearm of the same gauge or caliber as the ammunition he possesses; except, that no such person shall possess restricted pistol bullets; or
(4) He holds an ammunition collector’s certificate on September 24, 1976.
This is one of the most oppressive ammunition laws in the country. Possessing something that arbitrary and innocuous in most parts of the USA will get a person a SWAT raid and prison time in Washington D.C. The “crime” doesn’t need to involve an actual firearm or any malicious behavior. Enforcers are exempt from the law, and anyone else must seek the district’s permission to exercise their “rights”.
But it gets worse. D.C. code has an interesting way of defining “ammunition.”
Per D.C. Code § 7-2501.01 (2), ammunition in Washington D.C. is defined as:
(2) “Ammunition” means cartridge cases, shells, projectiles (including shot), primers, bullets (including restricted pistol bullets), propellant powder, or other devices or materials designed, redesigned, or intended for use in a firearm or destructive device.
Most shooters consider “ammunition” to be the finished product of several components that is ready to be discharged. This would include a casing fitted with a primer, loaded with powder, clamped to a projectile. While a person can use basic tools to combine the components into a usable round of ammunition, the components themselves cannot be fired. For an idea of how a typical pistol round is configured, examine this diagram:
What is striking about the district’s definition is that it labels all of the separate components as “ammunition.” This means that the already-oppressive ammo ban was written in such a broad manner that it goes far beyond usable rounds of ammo. It was written to include things that couldn’t even be fired if the owner wanted to.
An empty brass casing — illegal.
A tiny BB, known as “shot” — illegal.
A piece of metal capable of being a projectile — illegal.
There is a disturbing double-standard when it comes to these oppressive laws. First, most obviously, is the exemption to police. The very people who are supposed to exemplify law and order are not required to follow it. As they stomp around in full paramilitary garb, carrying weapons that only free men can own, average citizens like the Witascheks are being terrorized over the possession of an inoperable piece of brass.
Additionally, while Attorney General Irvin Nathan drops the hammer on the Witaschek family, it shoudl be pointed out that he declined to press charges against media personality David Gregory while using a prohibited object during an anti-gun tirade on live TV. Neither he, nor any NBC employees were punished after possessing a prohibited 30-round magazine during a television broadcast, which was filmed within district limits. This stunt was performed after police advised the network not to display the magazine, but Nathan claimed that “a prosecution would not promote public safety in the District of Columbia nor serve the best interests of the people of the District,” according to The Washington Times. Whose interests are Nathan and his office best serving, and whose safety are they promoting, by protecting Mr. Gregory and defaming Mr. Witaschek?
UPDATE (1/20/2014) — Charges Adjusted, Trial Advances
The assistant attorney generals attempted to cut a deal with Witaschek if he pleaded guilty to the charges of “attempted possession” of ammunition. This would have forfeited his eligibility for a jury trial, and could have carried a 6-month jail sentence. Witaschek declined the offer.
The prosecution failed to come up with a good defense of the initial police raid performed without a search warrant. Judge Robert Morin threw out the evidence that was obtained warrantlessly, which eliminated a box of rifle ammo from the charges.
The remaining evidence against Witaschek is a misfired 12-gauge shotgun shell and a box of muzzleloader sabots.
Mr. Witaschek’s jury trial is set to begin February 11th. This would be a golden opportunity the jury to use jury nullification against an immensely unreasonable and unjust law. If convicted, he faces a year in jail and a $1,000 fine for having a single, inoperable shotgun shell in his home.
“Since the night my home was invaded and family terrorized by a militarized D.C. police force, I am more afraid of what government is doing than I am of any of the people I encountered when I spent the night in jail,” Witaschek told the Washington Times‘ Emily Miller.
“The 2nd Amendment was meant to guarantee individuals the right to protect themselves against government — as much as against private bad guys and gangs.”
UPDATE (3/26/2014) — Witaschek Takes the Stand
Mark Witaschek was questioned in court today about a misfired shotgun shell that police had recovered. The assistant attorney general for the District, Oritsejemine Trouth, acted as though she was putting a murderer on trial.
Herself being illiterate about firearms and firearm terminology, Ms. Trouth fumbled through the questioning. The issue at hand was why Mr. Witaschek possessed an shotgun shell (which was actually inoperable) in Washington, D.C. Witaschek explained that the shell was a souvenir from a hunting trip he took in 2006. “I tend to keep mementos from hunts, like expended shells, when there’s a story behind it,” he explained. Witaschek recalled that he attempted to fire the shell during the hunt but when he pulled the trigger, nothing happened. The shell was a dud. Ever since the trip, Witaschek kept the shell in his study room, stored in an ashtray that belonged to his father.
“But if I had Sgt. Sloan put the 12-gauge cartridge in a shotgun and point it at you, would you allow him to shoot it at you?” the prosecution asked.
Anyone with a modicum of knowledge about firearm safety knows that it is never OK to point a firearm at anything that one could not afford to shoot — even if the gun is unloaded. The question is offensive.
Mr. Witaschek looked outraged. “That is a ridiculous question. I would never allow anyone to point a gun at me. I would not point a gun at anyone whether or not it had an expended shell or I knew it to be empty or not. You never point a gun at anyone. Period.”
UPDATE (3/26/2014) — Judge finds Witaschek Guilty
In a solemn confirmation of the degraded state of Americans’ rights, Mark Witaschek was found guilty of “attempted possession of unlawful ammunition.” Although most of the focus in the trial had been on the shotgun shell, the judge never ruled on it. Witashek’s guilt was found because of those antique replica muzzleloader bullets — conical shaped pieces of lead and copper, without primer or propellant. The judge never responded as to how these items were unlawful when the antique muzzle-loader that matched them was not.
Mark Witaschek will now live the rest of his life as a convicted “gun offender.” His sentence was for time in jail already served, along with a fine.
I run the risk of losing my job, my occupation, as a result of this conviction,” Witaschek said.
Outside the courtroom, Washington Times journalist Emily Miller asked Mr. Witaschek how he felt about the verdict. “I’m completely outraged by it,” he said. “This is just a continuation of the nightmare. Just to sit there. I could not believe it.”
Shaking his head, he added, “None of these people know anything about gun issues, including the judge.”
“It’s just so scary,” said his tearful wife Bonnie. “You never think you’ll end up in a situation like this, but here we are.”
UPDATE (3/28/2014) — Witaschek enters the “Gun Offenders Registry”
As ordered by the judge, Mark Witaschek showed up to the police department to join the district’s “Gun Offenders Registry.”
“They label it ‘gun-offender registry’ to sound like a sex-offender registry,” Mr. Witaschek noted to the Washington Times.
Witaschek was forced to give a mugshot and provide all sorts of personal details to the police. Such is the penalty for exercising even small amounts of freedom.
“I was found guilty of something that is not even illegal and forced to register for something that is not illegal,” Witaschek told Emily Miller, shaking his head. He plans to appeal the decision.
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