1:09 PM PST, March 2, 2013
With no thanks to the Democratic state senator who represents the area, the Baltimore County community of Perry Hall is safer from gun violence than it was six months ago. We can say that much.
Sen. Kathy Klausmeier might have voted against the important gun control bill that her colleagues in the Maryland Senate passed on Thursday, but Bobby Gladden has gone to prison, and that means his former fellow students at Perry Hall High won't have to worry about seeing him with a gun in the cafeteria again.
Students and teachers who were traumatized by Gladden last August might wonder why their local senator would vote against any gun control measure at a time of heightened fears, and with dozens of Perry Hall students still unwilling to take lunch in the cafeteria. They might question why Klausmeier voted against the ban on assault weapons. (So would I, but her aide said Friday that the senator was ill and not available.)
At least the Perry Hall students, their parents and teachers know that Gladden is gone. The 15-year-old cafeteria shooter, who wounded a fellow student with a shotgun blast on the first day of the school year, has been sent to prison for 35 years.
For now, Gladden's removal from the community is far more important to the people of Perry Hall than a gun control bill that still has to pass muster in the House of Delegates.
But both matters are important — the gun bill because of its long-term potential to save lives, the Gladden sentence because of what it says about how we treat our young.
First, on the gun bill: Its ban on assault-style rifles must carry special meaning for the parents of the students at Perry Hall. I'm sure that, at least since Newtown and perhaps before that, those parents have thought about the awful might-have-been. Had Bobby Gladden been able to get in August a weapon like the one Adam Lanza used in December ... I'll leave it there.
The bill that passed the Senate also requires that people who want to buy a handgun get a license first and, to get a license, submit their fingerprints.
People who think this does nothing but cost law-abiding citizens time, money and privacy are taking the narrow view. The license is bound to reduce the number of proxy purchases that put firearms in the hands of the wrong people. It's not going to suddenly stop gun violence — nothing will — but it will begin to reduce the flow of guns to criminals, to gang members, to people who impulsively want to do harm to themselves or others.
The bill that passed the Senate does not confiscate guns that people already own. People who do not have serious mental health issues or felony records will still be able to purchase all sorts of firearms that will remain on the market.
Now, about Bobby Gladden, and what happened Monday in Baltimore County Circuit Court.
Charged with attempted murder as an adult, he entered a guilty plea. Judge Robert Cahill sentenced him to life in prison with all but 35 years suspended. The judge made concurrent a 20-year sentence for Gladden's use of a firearm during a violent act.
Thirty-five years sounds like an appropriate sentence for an adult.
For a 15-year-old with a long history of problems, including suicidal thoughts, it sounds harsh.
For the guilty of any age, there needs to be punishment, and a harsh sentence is the judiciary's way of expressing the moral outrage a community demands.
But it's cruel and unusual to say a teenager deserves the same long-term punishment, under the same conditions, as someone five to 10 years his senior. Even the Supreme Court has started to agree with that.
Such draconian sentencing "precludes consideration of [a juvenile's] chronological age and its hallmark features — among them, immaturity, impetuosity, and failure to appreciate risks and consequences," Supreme Court Justice Elena Kagan wrote last year when the court ruled unconstitutional state laws that require youths convicted of murder be sentenced to life without parole.
Bobby Gladden did not commit murder. But he committed what you might call failed murder. So what he did warrants punishment. He needs to be away from Perry Hall, out of circulation, for a while.
But where he's put away and what happens there could make all the difference between a wasted life and one that some day contributes to society.
There's little support in this country for putting "corrections" back into our corrections system, especially when it comes to adults.
But do we really want to continue sentencing teenagers to the prisons that serve, at best, as human warehouses and, at worst, as the boot camps for gangs?
That boy from Perry Hall doesn't need years in prison among adult criminals; he needs a hospital and therapy. He needs help fixing his broken life.
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