A minor news story this week concerns Plaxico Burress, a top rank NFL receiver. He played for a while with the Steelers and ended up with the New York Giants. He was released from a New York prison this week after serving 20 months. His crime? Possession of an unregistered pistol. Burress intends to return to the NFL. He is now on the speaking circuit on behalf of the Brady campaign and other anti-gun groups.
His “offense” occurred in the fall of 2008. Burress was at a nightclub in New York. He had concealed in his waistband a semiautomatic pistol, a Glock .40 caliber. Witnesses saw Burress “fiddling” in his waistband, they heard a “pop,” and Burress fell to the floor exclaiming “take me to the hospital.” He had shot himself accidentally in the leg.
The Glock is a high-end Austrian pistol used by a lot of law enforcement agencies. They are relatively light because the parts not exposed to high friction/high temperatures are made from a polymer. They are easy to disassemble for cleaning and lubrication. Semiautomatic pistols have “safeties,” devices which prevent them from firing unless one intentionally pulls the trigger. Most use some sort of lever manipulated with the thumb. Glocks use a safety within the trigger mechanism. A friend who is a Glock “armorer” (meaning he has graduated from the manufacturer’s course) swears that the Glock safety mechanism is superior to the more common lever-type safety. He deems it safe to have a round chambered, that is, in the barrel ready to fire. Personally, I have some reservations about that, but that is my civilian viewpoint and the entire discussion is a bit esoteric. In any event, there has been no suggestion that Burress’s weapon is misfired, only that his “fiddling” caused an accidental discharge.
Let me give you the West Virginia reaction to the event itself. (I call this the West Virginia reaction because this is an area where many people are familiar with firearms.) Taking a firearm into a bar is dumb. I do not know if Burress was drinking. I certainly hope not. Drinking while armed is stunningly stupid. In any event, thank God his “fiddling” resulted in him shooting only himself and not someone else. Dumbass, if you are carrying at chainsaw, wouldn’t you have the common sense to be more careful?
When this occurred, Mayor Michael Bloomberg went all Neanderthal. He was all over the hospital for not reporting a gunshot wound timely. He also ranted at the New York Giants organization for not reporting this criminal activity of their own player/employee. He vowed that Burress would be prosecuted “to the fullest extent.”
Indeed, Burress was prosecuted. He entered a plea of guilty to possession of and unregistered pistol. So why did someone who had not been in serious trouble before end up in prison and out of work for 20 months? Answer: In New York, the prison term for possession of an unregistered pistol is mandatory. A judge does not have the discretion to place such a defendant on probation even if he or she wants to.
New York uses a sentencing chart which determines sentencing ranges based on the degree of the offense committed in the defendant’s criminal records. There are lots of examples of people doing pretty bad things and getting fairly easy sentences. (These are examples. To be fair, there are also examples of long sentences. Extremists on the left and right tend to cite examples which make their point and suggest that nothing but the best or worst, depending on their viewpoint, ever happens.)
Just a sampling:
Bath, NY, 27 March 2011 - A burglar and forger sentenced to 2-1/2 to five years. He actually broke into a business and stole things.
Pomona, NY, 30 March 2011 - A burglar sentenced to 3 to 6 years for 4 counts of burglary
New York/Brooklyn, November 2010 - a youth court counselor found guilty at trial of two sexual assaults of teen age girls and ten counts of sexual abuse of the teens, sentence to 4 years.
20 April 2011 - One year for a man originally charged with attempted murder for holding a knife to a former girlfriend’s throat, telling her “If I can’t get you, then no man can’t,” then cutting her face before a Good Samaritan intervened.
Why does New York will provide for such severe sentences for people possessing a firearm (a personal Constitutional right affirmed by the United States Supreme Court in the recent case of McDonald versus City of Chicago)? Obviously, the state wants to discourage that conduct.
Well, there’s lots of conduct I would like to discourage. Take drug dealing and commercial activity in aid of drug dealing. Right down the street is a commercial establishment which was raided three or four years ago for selling drug paraphernalia (“glass tobacco pipes,” ho ho) and which is now selling, guess what, the same thing. A prosecution and fine didn’t seem to change their behavior. Okay, how about jailing some people, such as the people who decided to sell and make money off of that shit? I don’t have a lot of problem with that because they’re not just hurting themselves. In fact, that trade helps them and hurts others. Intentional, malicious libels – nobody goes to jail for that these days. And yet the harm one can do with the written word is considerable. Child neglect, that’s behavior I’d like to see more severely discouraged. Maybe a stay at the Crossbar Hotel will wake up Mommy and Daddy Dumbass. Intentionally dumping harmful chemicals – that causes harm to people, but when’s the last time you heard of anything other than a fine for that? Even for direct person-on-person crimes, there is a disturbing lack of energetic discouragement of conduct.
Mayor Bloomberg thinks that the citizens can rest well by trusting the police to come very quickly. Of course, he doesn’t have to: As mayor, he has armed guards with him all the time. As an extremely rich man, he has had armed guards with him all the time for a very long time. He does not and has not had to depend on the time it takes for police officers to respond. Do as I say, not as I do. I don’t need to dirty my hands with evil guns, my guys take care of that for me.
Mind you, Plaxico Burress should not be carrying a firearm. (And now that he has a felony record, he cannot, ever again.) He has demonstrated that he is totally inept at it, perhaps as inept as I would be trying to play receiver for an NFL team. But what he did was stupid, not inherently bad, or, to use the Latin, malum prohibitum rather than malum in se.
You see, guns are indeed dangerous. Handling them requires extraordinary care. It requires training, concentration and alertness. But guns are not unique in that respect. A whole lot more people are killed and injured with automobiles than with firearms. Of course, there are a whole lot more automobiles and they are used infinitely more. But because they are so widely and routinely used, the users are trained and as youth look forward to becoming trained in the safe and effective use of automobiles. If you’re driving down a two-lane road in traffic, all it takes is a little flick of the wrist of any of the drivers coming at you to cause a fatality or serious injury. And yet, likely you are not quaking in fear every time you get on the road because you know people are trained to handle automobiles. Chainsaws, those are dangerous and not very common. That’s why every fourth person who picks one up without knowing what they’re doing ends up in the emergency room. Have you ever been around people who handle explosives? One mistake can kill many people, and yet they are not sweating, nervous and jittery. That’s because they know what they were taught, they’re paying attention, and they’re being careful. Hell, for that matter Boy Scouts are trained to be careful with their knives.
Firearms are particularized tools called weapons. They have a purpose. That purpose is not pleasant to contemplate and yet others have the power to impose the necessity of using them upon you.
You see, the implement is not the evil. The use of the implement, that is the evil. Criminality is not based on the arms. Criminality is based on someone’s intent to harm others secondary to passion or personal gain. Eliminate the arms and you deprive the criminal of some effective tools, but you did not rid the criminal of the evil intent.
I really wanted to tell a secret here. I wanted to be the first one to let you know. But last night, the Wisconsin State Senate passed a concealed carry permit bill. Wisconsin State Sen. Dan Kapanke stole my secret and was quoted giving my secret out to the public on Reuters: “We already have concealed carry. Those bent on criminal activity have been doing this for a long, long time.”
I used to regret never having been to New York. Well, now this old country boy has no regrets about it all.
Keep your powder dry.