Wednesday, December 3, 2008

Plaxico Burress not alone in ignoring gun laws

New York Giants wide receiver Plaxico Burress accidentally shot himself with his own gun while nightclubbing in Manhattan. For his troubles, he received not just the medical treatment he needed and the public shaming he deserved (for lousy gun handling), but a fine and suspension from his team and the possibility of spending 15 years behind bars because the gun isn't licensed in New York City. Quietly, I suspect lots of New Yorkers sympathize with the unfortunate football player.

In carrying an unlicensed handgun, Burress is in good company. New York City politicians, protected by phalanxes of taxpayer-funded guards and politically awarded permits to carry weapons, impose some of the toughest gun laws in the country on the people over whom they rule. Even long guns require permits and registration, and the handgun permitting process is an ordeal that takes months and money and requires applicants to submit to a fair share of abuse from officials on the off chance they'll be approved. Even then, the city has been known to arbitrarily yank already issued handgun permits just to reduce the numbers on the streets.

Not surprisingly, many New Yorkers have chosen to acquire the means for self defense outside of official channels. While crime rates in the city are low now compared to years past, some neighborhoods are better than others, and some people are more at risk than their neighbors. Even the wealthy can be targets, if they don't hide, like Mayor Bloomberg, behind bodyguards. The International Herald Tribune reports, "Burress has not spoken publicly about what possessed him to pack a gun, but some have speculated that he was carrying it for safety reasons after teammate and fellow wide receiver Steve Smith was robbed at gunpoint three days earlier after being driven to his town house in a chauffeur-driven car." So owning and carrying a weapon has potential benefits, whether or not officials approve.

Nobody knows how many unlicensed guns are in New York City, but the running estimate for years has been two million. I come from a family that owned guns in the city for generations before I finally applied for a handgun permit in the mid-1990s so that I could shoot at the range. After I was "out" as a gun owner, I was approached repeatedly be people who assumed (correctly) that I'd be sympathetic to their armed-and-underground status and were, often, curious as to how they could "get legal." Some were longtime city dwellers who'd packed illegally since the Sullivan Act was young, others were new to the city, carrying iron from back home. All were curious as to the process for reducing their legal exposure while retaining their ability to defend themselves.

I told them not to bother. It's not worth the hassle and expense to "get legal," just to wonder if the cops will decide to cull you from the roles of permit-holders one day, or kick in your door because you forgot to renew on time.

I'm obviously not the only person to come to that conclusion. New York has responded not by making its laws less intrusive and easier to follow, but by toughening penalties. The potential hit for being caught in possession of loaded, unlicensed gun is now 15 years, up from seven not too long ago. It's also a felony conviction.

But the potential hit from not being able to defend yourself and your family against bad guys is being dead. It's hard to trump that with prison time.

And authorities require medical staff to report any patients that come through their doors with gunshot wounds, the better to enforce the law (similar reporting requirements are in place elsewhere and may also apply to other situations, such as child abuse). Mayor Bloomberg is quite cross that doctors and nurses at New York-Presbyterian Hospital Weill Cornell didn't immediately snitch on Burress to the cops.

Here's a newsflash: Doctors' and nurses' first priority is saving lives, not dropping a dime. I know many medical personnel, and they're often quite adept at selective blindness, deafness and short-term memory loss. They want the sick and injured to seek their help, not fear them. They're also not always impressed by the wisdom of the law.

In the end, toughening penalties for violating laws that offend people's sense of liberty, justice and common sense doesn't actually improve the viability of those laws. Instead, it widens the gap between how politicians want people to behave, and how those people actually live their lives. It also encourages popular contempt toward government and the law.

That contempt is probably a good thing. But less fortunate are the victims produced along the way, including athletes threatened with a decade or more behind bars for the "crime" of injuring themselves.



Anonymous Anonymous said...

currently in process of obtaining my concealed carry permit here in florida. i'm not afraid of crooks, i'm afraid of my government. process now takes average of 3 months at cost of aprox $125. would rather endure this than be sent to jail for violating the law but it is outrage that our rights have been so whittled down to the nub by these treasonous treacherous politicians....i hope i live to see them pay for what they've done to our country.

December 4, 2008 4:39 AM  
Blogger GandolfTheWise said...

Isn't it strange how the politicians all swear and take oaths to uphold our constitution when they obviously do not know what our founding fathers wrote, said, or believed.


How hard is that to understand?

Or do the politicians understand it better than the citizenry - maybe we are no longer considered "FREE MEN"

December 18, 2008 11:57 PM  

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