Firearms possession is a very opinionated subject in our country. The right to bear arms is provided (limited) protected by our country’s Constitution and many find that value sacred. Others believe that firearms kill people and therefore they should be banned or significantly regulated. Still others feel they need to possess a firearm to protect themselves and their families. The federal government and the State of Michigan both have some strict criminal laws related to firearms which require mandatory prison sentences. For instance, a conviction for being in possession of a firearm during the commission of a felony mandates two years in prison in Michigan and five years in prison in federal court. Using a firearm in furtherance of a drug trafficking or crime of violence is five years mandatory in federal court. The prison sentence is mandatory meaning a judge cannot look at the circumstances of each individual case and make a individual determination as to whether it is deserved. Individualized sentencing is one reason we have judges in our judicial system. Our system recognizes the need to look at each case and person individually to decide the sentence based upon the need for punishment, deterrence, and rehabilitation. Not so with felony firearm charges.
Carrying a concealed firearm is a felony
Therefore, because a firearm is involved in the commission of a felony a prosecutor could also charge and easily get a conviction for felony firearm resulting in a two year mandatory prison sentence. Prior record does not matter. The fact that the person reasonably believed they had a permit and was mistaken is irrelevant. The sentence is mandatory. Think of how easily a family can be destroyed if that were to happen. A person’s life, livelihood and career can surely and easily be derailed. This situation is so unfair, prosecutors rarely charge felony firearm along with carrying a concealed weapon but they could if they wanted to. The more common scenario is a person charged with being a prior felon being in possession of a firearm. In almost all cases, felony firearm is also charged. That is when some good people, people not deserving of going to prison face that real possibility. What is worse is that most of those good people unfairly fighting a felony firearm charge are black men.
In this country, despite being a minority, black men are more likely to be felons. They are also more likely to be living in areas with higher crime rates. They are living in areas were armed robberies, murders, assaults, and felonious drug crimes are in much higher numbers. hearing gun shots on the streets are common. Those being robbed at gun point are not rare occurrences. Gang violence is a way of life. These areas are not far away being in the inner cities of Pontiac, Detroit, Flint, Battle Creek and Saginaw.
54 percent of blacks now see gun ownership as a good thing
According to a survey by the Pew Research Center, 54 percent of blacks now see gun ownership as a good thing, something more likely to protect than harm. That’s up from 29 percent just two years ago. In places like Detroit, more African-Americans are getting permits to carry concealed weapons. Other studies have shown that young inner city black males carry guns primarily for “self protection” and “self preservation”. When they see their peers carrying, especially ones that are engaged in other crimes like drug dealing and assaults, the perception is that they themselves must carry. This leads to more shootings, robberies and deaths which increases the perception and reality that carrying a gun is necessary.
It becomes an activity of culture. Parents in poor cities are more likely to carry a weapon which encourages their children to do so. The parents are not advocating violence or crime, but rather, self protection in an increasingly dangerous community. One in which more people, legally and illegally, carry a concealed weapon.
Regarding the higher rates of African Americans carrying concealed weapons in inner cities for self defense, Detroit Police Chief James Craig recently stated that “It was a well-known fact here in Detroit,” he says. “People didn’t have a lot of confidence that when they dialed 911, that the police were going to show up. In fact, we know they didn’t.”
It is not fair. It is not equal justice.
When it comes to carrying a concealed weapon for self defense, why should a non-violent felon be treated vastly differently than a person without a record. Despite only wanted to protect his life from the real threat of gun violence a felon, especially if he is black, he is more likely to be sentenced to two years in prison. It is not fair. It is not equal justice.
As a defense attorney, I seek justice from the prosecutors attempting to coerce them in dismissing these mandatory firearm charges. Sometimes they listen and sometimes they do not. If they don’t, it is my obligation to fight for what is fair, even if that fairness is not reflected by our laws. Sometimes, even if someone is guilty, you do not give up the fight. There are more than one way to receive justice. Thank god for juries where a group of citizens can decide what is fair. As a good friend of mine, Neil Rockind said, “juries are daily democracy”. Instead of voting for representative in government in the hopes that they will do the right thing, a juror has the power to make a difference, one trial at a time.