In March, 2013, new gun laws went into effect here in New York State. While the media paid attention to the provisions of the law that applied to rifles, the parts of the law that will come into play for most defendants are the new handgun provisions. Here is a brief rundown on some of the new laws:
• Possession of a firearm on school grounds or a school bus will be increased from a misdemeanor to a Class E Felony.
This part of the law may be applied when a young person, including elementary school children, brings a gun to school. That includes unloaded guns. Do we want a poor lost child who is bringing a gun to school being prosecuted for a felony offense? Or, do we want a holistic approach where the child’s home life and circumstances are examined and made stable?
• Possession of an unloaded gun will be raised from a misdemeanor to a Class E felony.
This part of the law may directly affect young men in our urban centers: the young black men who are the targets of “Stop and Frisk” and aggressive law enforcement practices throughout the state. If a young brother has an unloaded gun he is automatically facing a felony charge. We are going to saddle more young men with these felony charges and potential felony convictions because of this law.
• Tougher penalties to permit more effective gang prosecutions, allowing a prosecutor to ask for 25 to life (previously was just 15 years) for an entire group when a gang is involved in murder.
This section is particularly troubling in light of the the mass arrest, prosecution and incarceration of our young men in the Capital District. Enhancing a penalty to 25 years to life does nothing but create mass incarceration and destruction of the black community. These brothers need reform, not life in jail.
• Using or carrying a firearm during drug trafficking or a violent felony will include a 5 year mandatory minimum sentence if the gun is loaded and a 3½ year mandatory minimum if unloaded. (The Court could impose a lower sentence in drug trafficking cases depending on mitigating factors).
Again, this section means that our brothers in the streets will be facing mandatory minimums of 3 1/2 years for crimes that they previously would face as little at 1 1/2 years.
• Sharing a gun with an individual who is not authorized to possess a gun and commits a crime will constitute criminal facilitation.
This is the so-called “community guns” problem. In the streets, our young brothers may share access to a handgun. If that handgun is used in a crime, ALL of the brothers who had access to that gun can be prosecuted for Criminal Facilitation.
Of course, the solution that the politicians have to our social problems is more jail time. But that approach has not worked in the past. What would make them think it will work now?