An interesting and instructive story out of Buffalo: “[Dwayne Ferguson] was among local activists who stood with Assemblywoman Crystal Peoples-Stokes last year lobbying for a law that would make possessing a gun on school property a felony.”
Problem: Last week, Mr. Ferguson was found in possession of a gun on school property—so, he supported a law that has now ended up tagging him with two felony charges—unintended consequences, anyone?
I believe this excerpt from the story includes the key point: “Both Schools Superintendent Pamela C. Brown and Kevin Brinkworth, the district’s chief of police, school safety and security, said it is unclear why Ferguson had the gun on school property, but officials do not believe he had any ill intent.”
Did you get that? No “ill intent.”
Historically, the Western legal system has termed that “mens rea”—evil or bad motives (Latin: “guilty mind”). This concept should be the key factor in virtually every application of law. Zero tolerance laws are commonly well-intentioned, but almost as often short-sighted and foolish, and wind up punishing fine citizens—like Dwayne Ferguson.
From everything in this article, Mr. Ferguson appears to be the kind of neighbor we should all covet—a man very involved in his community, investing time to guide young lives in a positive direction. But his insufficient grasp of legal theory and practice has now cost him—as it has cost countless upstanding men and women before him: he’s charged with felonies that may remain on his record for the rest of his days,
Bottom-line: Zero tolerance laws should be scrapped in virtually every instance where they exist. Such laws almost never prevent anything—people with criminal intent, by definition, don’t care about such laws!–and they often ensnare individuals who had no designs to do harm and who, in truth, would be a huge asset to the innocent, should anyone with “ill intent” arrive on the scene.
It’s a long-shot, but I hope Mr. Ferguson and all who support him switch on their brains, and learn a valuable lesson which changes their views. In reality we will likely see one of two outcomes: 1) total hypocrisy and injustice, as those who supported such laws make an exception for a “friend” but continue to apply them against others (a gross failure of equal-justice), or 2) Mr. Ferguson will be prosecuted, and another upstanding citizen will be disarmed and unable to respond to evil in the future (a gross offense against authentic justice).
Free Dwayne Ferguson. Scrap the stupid laws.