Just when we were, as a nation, beginning to realize that putting people in prison for non-violent offenses, an Illinois state representative wants to revive Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel's proposed legislation imposing mandatory minimum prison sentences for illegal firearm ownership. Mandatory minimum sentencing has been rightly identified as a human rights travesty and is being repealed across the nation.
If this passes, not only will it be one more failed attempt to prevent gun possession, but it will also represent Democratic willingness to totally ignore the lessons of drug prohibition and the devastation of mandatory minimum sentencing for a futile and authoritarian quest to regulate what people can and can’t own.
A semi-automatic handgun and a holster are displayed at a North Little Rock, Ark. , gun shop Thursday, Aug. 22, 2013. (AP)
Mandatory minimum sentences were devised as a way to circumvent lenient, liberal judges who were supposedly “soft on crime.” What they ended up doing is helping the United States to imprison more people than any other country on Earth, mostly for non-violent offenses. Mandatory minimums have been such a demonstrated human-rights catastrophe that most states are repealing the laws instituting them and the Department of Justice has indicated plans to re-evaluate them at the federal level. In addition, a Reason-Rupe poll found that 71 percent of Americans want mandatory minimum sentencing laws for non-violent offenders eliminated.
People had trouble stomaching stories of people going to prison for life without the possibility of parole over stealing $159 jackets or selling $10 worth of weed to an undercover officer.
Not only are people imprisoned longer under mandatory minimum laws, but more innocent people are imprisoned as well. Fewer and fewer people actually go through a trial before being sent to prison. The very real threat of a 10 or 20-year sentence persuades many defendants, and 97 percent of drug defendants, to plead guilty in exchange for lower sentences, whether they are guilty or not. This is disproportionately true for low-income defendants who cannot afford quality representation in court.
[sharequote align="center"]Everyone wants less gun violence. But larger prison populations isn’t going to accomplish that.[/sharequote]
The sentences for firearm possession will be three years, not 30. But they still rest on incredibly flawed reasoning. Mandatory minimum sentencing laws for possession, of drugs or firearms, are designed to put people in cages rather than let them do what is no harm to anyone else, but might be.
Nearly anything can jump over a bar this low. And when every new inmate means enormous profit for private prison systems, with the power to lobby for new laws, anything might.
Of course Democrats, and everyone else, wants fewer instances of gun violence. But a larger prison population, the only sure result of mandatory minimum sentencing, isn’t going to accomplish that.
It’s kind of amazing that Democrats, who have rightly decried pointless and authoritarian harsh-on-crime legislation like mandatory minimum prison sentencing laws would push for the same for firearms possession. When will both parties begin to understand that imprisoning people for the non-violent offense of owning something is pointless and wrong?
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