The Cost of “Safety” in DC, the Fate of Mark Witaschek

In an ending to a long and arduous trial, Mark Witaschek was found guilty of the “‘attempted possession of unlawful ammunition’ for antique replica muzzleloader bullets.”

Witaschek was taken to trial, and has been in the process of that trial, for 2 years, accused of possessing a single shotgun shell and muzzleloader bullets.  It is illegal in DC to possess ammunition with a registration certificate, and a citizen may not possess ammunition for any firearm he/she does not possess the certification for.

From the Washington Times:

The D.C. government is treating the case of a businessman possessing ammunition without a gun like the great murder trial of 2014.

The city has spent almost two years and countless resources prosecuting Mark Witaschek for having a single shotgun shell and muzzleloader bullets. His trial, which began in November, hit an all-time low for absurdity Wednesday.

Mr. Witaschek took the stand in his own defense at D.C. Superior Court to explain why he was not guilty of possession of unregistered ammunition. It is illegal in the nation’s capital to possess ammunition unless you have a registered firearm. The maximum penalty is a $1,000 fine and one year in jail.

Defense attorney Howard X. McEachern asked his client to explain how he came to have a shotgun shell on his desk at his home in Georgetown. Mr. Witaschek explained that he kept the shotgun shell as a “souvenir” from a hunting trip in southern Virginia with friends in 2006.

Read more:


Upon reading several articles on the case, it becomes increasingly clear just how ridiculous the whole thing is.  This man, who has a clean record, is facing serious charges for one apparently inoperable shotgun shell and a small amount of muzzleloader sabots, which cannot be fired from a weapon on their own.  For those unfamiliar with black powder shooting, there are 3 main components needed to fire a muzzleloader firearm: the powder, the projectile (round ball or sabot), and a primer.  Without any one of these components, the firearm is a paper-weight.

The lead projectiles above still require powder to propel them and a primer to set off that powder.  This is what Witaschek had in his home that lawyers determined is “ammunition.”  For contrast, what we typically think of as “ammunition” is modern self-contained ammunition like the ones below.

An equivalent would be accusing someone of possessing cake (if cake were illegal, that is), for possessing a box of cake mix.  The fact that the mix will never become cake without egg, water, etc. notwithstanding.

Reflecting on Mr. Witaschek’s trial, one can’t help but consider the extreme nature of DC’s gun control laws.  That this otherwise law-abiding citizen would be charged for possessing a dead shotgun shell and one component of blackpowder ammunition is nothing less than astounding.  It begs the question of the purpose of such laws.  After all, DC still has one of the highest crime rates in the nation.

Are DC citizens really safer for Witaschek not having a dud of a shotgun shell kept as a momento from a hunting trip in another state?  What about his not having one part of ammunition for traditional hunting and marksmanship?

The price DC citizens have paid for safety is immense, and it’s safe to say they’ve been ripped off. DC’s crime rate remains far above the national average despite the severe limiting of their freedom.

The moral of Witaschek’s unfortunate story is that we, as citizens, must be aware of all threats, both criminals and government.  Ultimately, coercion is coercion, regardless of whether it’s coming from a knife-wielding thief or a AR-15-wielding police officer knocking on your door.

So, was Witaschek rightly accused?  What say you?

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