Devil’s Right Hand Arrest in New York City

Recently, a woman from Tennessee was arrested for carrying a licensed gun in New York City. The case has sparked some uproar because of the unusual facts. The woman, Meredith Graves, apparently was carrying a gun licensed in her home state of Tennessee while visiting the 9/11 Memorial in New York. After seeing a “No Guns” sign, Ms. Graves asked police where she could check her gun. Subsequently, she was arrested under a New York law prohibiting people from carrying a loaded gun, even if the gun is licensed in another state.

The case is a perfect illustration of the old adage, “Ignorance of the Law is No Excuse.” Generally, that is true in the law, as one may understand that someone should not be able to commit robbery and then say they did not know it was against the law. Only very rarely can ignorance of the law rise to a Due Process problem when someone is punished for violating a law they did not know existed. Under this case, a court would probably hold that when someone travels to another state with a gun, it is not unfair to require them to check the local laws on whether they can pack heat.

Here, Ms. Graves had every intent to comply with the law and was arrested for violating a New York law she did not know existed. A prosecutor is seeking a felony conviction, which could result in a sentence of up to 3 1/2 years. This case seems like a perfect one for a prosecutor to use discretion to avoid a conviction of someone who did not wish to cause any harm and who tried to comply with the law — even if she could have done things a little better. My guess is that the prosecutor is using the case to help publicize the New York law to tell tourists to leave their guns at home. Hopefully, after the publicity, the case will be dropped against Graves.

There are a number of slang terms for guns, and one of the coolest is “the Devil’s right hand,” used in the song of the same name written by Steve Earle from his album, Copperhead Road (1988). The song begins with the singer’s first encounter with what his mama called “the Devil’s right hand,” illustrating a fascination that ends up with the singer using a gun to kill another man during a fight in the card game. Like Ms. Graves, the singer pleads not guilty and blames it all on “the Devil’s right hand.” Here is Steve Earle performing the song in 1996.

It is somewhat surprising that the song has not been covered more often by rock groups, considering the song’s catchy music and edgy lyrics. Perhaps the best cover is by The Highwaymen. That version makes good use of all of the members of the group: Johnny Cash, Waylong Jennings, Kris Kristofferson, and Willie Nelson. Two of the members of that group — Waylon Jennings and Johnny Cash — recorded their own solo versions too. Here is the group version. So listen to the song one more time as a reminder to check those gun laws when you travel.

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