Friday, December 05, 2008

Could Plax End Up in the Supreme Court?

Well, it seems the New York and national media just can't get enough of this Plaxico Burress story. It has been all over the place since he accidentally shot himself in the leg at a nightclub last Friday. Much of the talk has centered around the possible ramifications for Plax beyond the four-game suspension the Giants already doled out. We've had news of Derrick Ward and Antonio Pierce, Giant players who were also at the nightclub, being called in for questioning. And then there was the stinging response of New York City mayor, Michael Bloomberg. If you're having some short term memory loss, here you go:

"If we don't prosecute [him] to the fullest extent of the law, I don't know who on Earth we would," Bloomberg said. "It makes a sham, a mockery of the law. And it's pretty hard to argue the guy didn't have a gun and that it wasn't loaded. You've got bullet holes in and out to show that it was there."

One thing I learned from being in NYC this summer and covering several Bloomberg pressers and just dealing with his administration in general is that whether he's wrong or right, when Mike Bloomberg says something, he stands by it. That doesn't bode well for Plaxico.

See, what some have overlooked about that statement is that means at minimum, Plax will be serving 3 and a half years in prison according to New York gun laws. I say that with certainty because, well, if we go by the letter of the law, this is an open and shut case. If you fire a gun in public in New York, and especially if you do it without a license, the punishment is 3 and a half to 15 years in jail. There really is nothing Plax's high-priced lawyer can do ... but wait ... there might be.

This past summer when I was at the NY Sun, I worked on this story (or more like did the bitch work for a story that another writer wrote) about how New York's gun laws were about to be challenged in the courts thanks to a decision in a DC court. The case involved this hot dog vendor, Daniel Vargas, who got arrested for simply having a gun in his apartment, which cops searched after receiving a tip that someone at his residence owned an unlicensed firearm. Literally, the guy got arrested for having a gun in his house. From Joe Goldstein of the the NY Sun:

The vendor, Daniel Vargas, is due next month in court to fight misdemeanor charges that he kept an unlicensed revolver loaded on a basement shelf in his apartment. The case, which has generated 23 hearings and been heard by no fewer than 10 different judges as it winds through Brooklyn's lowest criminal court, would be of little general interest, except for the fact that the U.S. Supreme Court recently ruled that the Second Amendment protects a right to keep a handgun at home for self-defense.

Just to inject a personal anecdote into this post, if you take a look at the very end of the story, you'll see the results of my grunt work. I had to go to this Vargas guy's former apartment in the East New York neighborhood of Brooklyn (not exactly the cream of the crop in terms of Brooklyn areas), and ask all these neighbors if they remember him and things of that nature. Here's the extent of my work:

Mr. Vargas moved last month from the address on Lincoln Avenue where he was arrested, neighbors said. He could not be reached for comment. An immigrant from the Dominican Republic who is in his early 40s, Mr. Vargas "was a very nice man whenever I saw him," an upstairs neighbor, Beatrez Leger, said, adding that she recalled the arrest in 2006.

"I know he was very upset about it," she said.

Another neighbor, who declined to give his name, said that Mr. Vargas usually sells hot dogs at the corner of Liberty and Sheridan Avenues, although he was not there yesterday.

Now you say, how does this case relate to Plaxico since he didn't have a gun in his house, he had one in his sweatpants without a holster while at a nightclub? Actually, let's get specific because we can thanks to police and press reports

It appears that (Burress) put the unholstered gun in the waistband of his sweatpants, and when it slipped, he grabbed for it, accidentally hitting the trigger. To make matters worse, according to press accounts, he was seen drinking and may have been consuming alcohol -- which all firearms safety training (including the class he would have been required to take for his Florida permit) absolutely forbids for people handling guns. And of course Mr. Burress's handgun should have been holstered to prevent unintentional movement of the trigger. Fortunately, his negligent discharge did not harm anyone else.

Reading that, I think we all have the same reaction. What a moron. Seriously, who wears sweatpants to a nightclub? When I lived in New York, I was told not to expect to get into a bar, let alone a club, without a collar and long pants. And then basically counting on the elastic of your sweatpants to keep the gun in your possession. It's just idiotic, especially for someone making millions of dollars.

C'mon Plax, even little squirrels know the necessary safety measures that must be taken when carrying a gun.

So, you ask, how could this buffoonery result in Plaxico Burress becoming the model citizen for all those NRA and 2nd Amendment advocates who say things like "I don't have to be careful, I own a gun" or "Political power grows out of the gun"? By the way, those two quotes were uttered by Matt Groening, creator of The Simpsons, and Mao Zedong, creator of Communist China. Not sure how what that says about my opnion on this, but I thought they were good quotes.

Back to the business at hand, though. That pro-2nd Amendment court decision about guns in homes, District of Columbia vs. Heller, did not say requiring a gun permit to carry a gun wasn't allowed, BUT, as David Kopel explains in the Wall Street Journal:

In New York State, nonresidents cannot even apply for the licenses to possess or carry a handgun. Unlike most other states, New York refuses to honor carry permits issued by sister states. Most observers believe that the Supreme Court will eventually make state and local governments obey the Second Amendment. If it does, New York's discrimination against nonresidents will probably be ruled unconstitutional.

Plax had a license from Florida that expired last spring and since his home is in Jersey, he is technically not a New York state resident, meaning even if he wanted to legally have a gun on him that night, New York would never allow it as the law stands right now. And in fact the law is probably the most strict in all of America. According to the NY Sun:

It can require multiple trips to One Police Plaza, a wait of more than four months, and fees that can reach more than $1,000 over a decade. Some criminal defense lawyers also say that the requirement that applicants possess "good moral character" is too arbitrary.

Because of this moral character aspect of the equation, pretty much the only people in New York that can legally carry a weapon are celebrities, politicians, or former police officers. Now most of us peaceful folk would obviously contend that the fewer guns, the merrier for a society so fixated on violence. But the founders of this country gave everyone the right to bear arms and I haven't seen 2/3 of the country ready to repeal that (2/3 majority in Congress is what it would take to get an amendment gone, that is, if my high school social studies classes were telling me the truth). You get the floor again, Kopel:

Mr. Burress's behavior was bad. However, Mr. Burress is not facing prosecution for carelessness, but simply for carrying a weapon. This is unjust and perhaps unconstitutional. ... Some commentators contend that Plaxico Burress should have hired bodyguards, instead of carrying a gun himself. Mr. Burress might now agree. But people who aren't as wealthy as he is also deserve to be safe, and they don't have the money for bodyguards. New York City needs to regularize its carry permit system so that law-abiding people can protect themselves, especially if their circumstances (such as being a witness to a gang crime) place them at heightened risk.

So basically, if Plax chooses to, he'll probably be able to appeal this to some kind of higher court, maybe even the highest in all the land here in Washington. Not sure if he'll win, simply because the gun wasn't in his home, it was in his sweatpants. But still, there are some interesting arguments that P Diddy's old lawyer will likely pursue now that he's representing Plaxico.

Wait, what's that? You want one final pro-Plax assertion from respected media folk. Ask and you shall receive:

The Burress case also shows why mandatory sentences are a bad idea. He was careless but had no malign intent. Legislators and mayors like to appear tough by pushing through such draconian laws. Yet the victims are people like Mr. Burress whose conduct may have been improper, but who do not deserve the same sentences meted out to robbers and burglars.

I figured since I had the Plax gun photo yesterday, i had to end with an NRA/Charlton Heston gun-totin' picture. And speaking of the NRA, where the hell have they been during all this the past week? No statements, no support for Burress, no nothing. This is probably the biggest gun case in at least a few years and the biggest lobbying group for guns has been MIA. Kind of fishy, if you ask me.

No comments: