Wednesday, April 3, 2013

Gun Control Debate: What Constitutes A Criminal?

A couple of Sundays ago on NBC’s Meet The Press, New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg (R) appeared as a guest on the show and declared his dedication to ensuring stricter gun laws are enacted. Bloomberg, a long time supporter of tighter gun legislation, made it clear he was willing to take on the NRA in a public relations war, and was willing to put his money where his mouth is in order to win. Through a $12 million dollar nationwide ad campaign, Bloomberg’s goal is to keep guns out of the hands of criminals and the mentally ill.

Bloomberg and other proponents of gun reform laws have repeatedly stated that keeping firearms out of the hands of criminals, is the key to championing the gun control problem in our country. Is it fair though, to create such a broad category of people to systematically deny their constitutional right to bear arms? Additionally what constitutes a “criminal” within the context of this debate?

If my assumptions serve me correct, a “criminal” in this context would be defined as anyone who has ever been convicted of a crime and essentially garnered a criminal history. Yet with this in mind, I myself am essentially denied the ability to exercise my second amendment right and I take issue with that fact.

Thirteen years ago, when I was much younger and much stupider, I found myself being convicted of illegally carrying a firearm and thus sentenced to serve out a one year prison sentence in New York’s notorious Rikers Island. Just barely having survived my teenage years, and yet still too young to even purchase alcohol, a mistake as arbitrary as carrying my buddy’s gun cost me a year of my life and nearly ended my college career. I suffered as a result of my transgression and I paid a large price to work my way back into a society which is not quick to forgive a black man who has fallen from whatever small bit of grace he was born with.

Yet I managed to climb the career ladder despite my seedy past and eventually reached a point where my mistakes have become a non-factor in my life. But because of the mistakes I made over a decade ago I am still considered a criminal by Mayor Bloomberg and others who clearly do not believe in an individual’s basic capacity to change.

What’s interesting though, is that most mass shootings in America have been perpetrated at the hands of men who do not possess a criminal history and would not have been disqualified from purchasing a firearm. If the core of the gun control debate was centered around urban gun violence, which has been rampant for the past 30 years, disarming ex-offenders and “criminals” could potentially hold some weight, but unfortunately had it not been for the amount of gun violence spilling over into white suburbia beginning with the Columbine massacre, and if the gun violence was being contained exclusively in poor black ghettos, there would be no gun legislation on the table. By framing the gun control debate as a means to get guns out of the hands of criminals, politicians and the media are once again using fear to impose its political agenda upon the American people. Because tapping into a fear that mainstream America already has about urban America, which is that they are full of criminals is a great way to pose as a champion of gun rights, even if it doesn’t necessarily solve the problem.

But I digress.

Certainly there is a need for comprehensive gun reform. In cities like Chicago, Detroit and my hometown of Philadelphia, gun violence is tearing neighborhoods and families apart. Everyday innocent victims are being murdered by handguns with no retribution, creating what is becoming an epidemic in America.

Just last week in Georgia two teenagers ages 14 and 17 allegedly shot and killed an infant child while the baby was being pushed in a carriage by the mother, who was shot in the leg. While this is one of the most horrific acts I have heard in recent years, the tragedy is that no aspect of any proposed gun legislation could have prevented this atrocity. The bottom line is that in order to truly help suppress gun violence, you must heal the people.

As much as I am for gun control, as long as guns exist in our society it will be impossible to keep them out of a persons hands who is intent on doing harm to another. But if you were to succeed by some strange stroke of luck in removing all of the guns off the streets, then you would begin seeing a string of stabbings, bow and arrow attacks or violence by use of some other weapon of destruction, or sport, depending on who you ask.

It is no secret that in urban America, much of the violent crimes occur at the hands of an individual who has had previous run ins with law enforcement, if not a criminal record. In these instances, there is no greater way to combat any form of criminal activity than by providing comprehensive reentry services and provide ex-offenders with a path toward redemption. No one who leaves jail has the desire to return, yet it is desperation, lack of resources and opportunities which end up returning the person back behind bars. Usually within three years of the initial release.

As an one of the ex-offender’s in America who has been able to live down the mistakes of my past, I find it painful and degrading when I am lumped into a broad category and told that I am still a danger to society and not fit to exercise any constitutional right, whether it be bearing arms or voting. Additionally, as a father I find it difficult at times to accept the fact that I am prohibited from exercising my right to bear arms, and being put at a tremendous disadvantage when it comes to protecting my family. Yet, I would be a less than honest if I said I did not see the logic and value in some form of gun restrictions for violent felons.

A Louisiana judge last week ruled that prohibiting felons from owning firearms is unconstitutional. The state which has one of the highest rates of gun violence in the country believes that the right to bear arms is every American’s fundamental right. Go figure.

It is difficult to accept such relaxed gun laws when you hear about tragedies such as the infant who was shot last week, or Hadiyah Pendleton who was shot to death in Chicago in January, or the December school shooting in Ohio, but it is important to find solutions to the problem that will actually solve it, rather than solutions that help us sleep at night. I do not profess to be an expert on gun control, or have the answers to the questions surrounding this important topic, but I know that I am not a criminal, and that my second amendment right should not be infringed upon. There are many others like me who are not a danger to society and should not be treated as such.
blog comments powered by Disqus