Last year, NBC News anchorman David Gregory almost got in trouble with the law for waving a 30-round ammunition magazine in front of the camera during an interview with NRA leader Wayne LaPierre on “Meet the Press.” The show was being broadcast from Washington, D.C., where it’s illegal under local law to possess even an empty magazine capable of holding more than 10 rounds of ammo.
Irvin Nathan, the Attorney General for the District of Columbia, huddled with staffers to decide whether to make a public example out of Gregory for his very public stunt. But Nathan ended up exercising “prosecutorial discretion to decline to bring criminal charges against Mr. Gregory, who has no criminal record, or any other NBC employee based on the events associated” with that incident.
Now a regular guy who lives in Washington, D.C. is confronted with a similar problem under the city’s restrictive gun laws. But in the case of D.C. resident Mark Witaschek, who faces prosecution for allegedly possessing a small cache of inert and spent ammunition inside his Georgetown apartment, the same well of magnanimity, common sense and good will that slaked AG Nathan’s thirst for justice in the David Gregory case has apparently run dry.
Witaschek was reportedly outed to the cops last year by a jaded ex-wife who allegedly told police they’d find illegal guns in his home. They hastily raided the place and found no guns (he keeps those at a relative’s house in Virginia.) But they did find some unspent rifle ammo – “evidence” that a judge dismissed because it was illegally obtained without a warrant. But the prosecution, now too entrenched in its detective work to abandon the case, pressed on. Here’s how The Washington Times’ Emily Miller describes their continued effort to make Witaschek pay for his sins:
Undeterred, the prosecutors continued with the two items from the second raid [yes, they came back with a warrant] — a misfired 12-gauge shotgun shell and a box of muzzleloader sabots.
Sabots are plastic covers that make it easier to push the bullet into a muzzleloader gun. There is no propellent on the bullet or sabot — because the gunpowder is separated — so it is not clear that it can be categorized as ammunition and thus only registered gun owners can possess it.
Thus, the single vaguely legitimate remaining charge for “unregistered ammunition” is the misfired shotgun shell that Mr. Witaschek has kept as a souvenir from deer hunting years earlier. The shell cannot be fired because the primer was already stricken and failed to propel it.
Like Gregory, Witaschek doesn’t have a criminal record. Miller reports that he appears to represent the “first known case of a citizen being prosecuted in D.C. for inoperable ammunition. … Mr. Nathan’s office has spent countless hours and taxpayer money to try to nail a man who is an upstanding member of society with no intent to harm anyone.”
For more background on the case, read Miller’s Oct. 2013 report. Unless AG Nathan exercises his self-avowed “prosecutorial discretion” and elects to drop the charge, Witaschek will face a jury trial, whereafter a (hopefully unlikely) conviction could land him in jail for a up to a year.