Tuesday, February 9, 2010

Excessive Gun Sentences

When we aren't busy filling our jails with non-violent drug offenders, we are sending other people to jail for the "crime" of possessing otherwise legal weapons at the wrong place and time. Plaxico Burress was a prime example. He got two years in jail for having a gun accident in public -- an accident in which he himself was the only injured person. But because the incident occurred in New York, instead of a state friendlier to the right to bear arms, he's sitting in jail right now.

The latest high profile case of a celebrity heading to jail over possessing a gun in New York is that of rapper Lil' Wayne. (More on the case here).  He's facing an expected year in jail. A year in jail for what? He apparently had a handgun on his tour bus that was discovered by police while they were searching for -- what else -- drugs. He didn't do anything with the gun. It wasn't stolen, used in a crime, pointed at police, or used in any other way that should justify throwing someone in jail. He simply owned a gun, and didn't have a license to have it in New York. How is that worth a year in jail? Such a procedural offense should be penalized by a moderate fine. 

I'm sure some people look at Plaxico Burress, an arrogant, obnoxious athlete who was stupid enough to shoot himself in the leg, or Lil' Wayne, with all the baggage that comes with the rap scene, and think: it serves them right. Maybe jail will teach them a lesson and knock them down a notch. But the problem is that states like New York, with their ridiculously excessive penalties for gun violations, can turn their wrath against ordinary gun owners. If rich celebrities like rappers and NFL players get thrown in jail for a year or two, what happens to an average person from out of state who drives through New York with his legally purchased weapons, gets stopped, and is found to be in possession of weapons unlicensed and therefore illegal in New York? 

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