August 8, 2006
By RICK GREEN, Courant Staff Writer
For a moment, as I sat before Superior Court Judge Bradford J. Ward, I wondered about the 20-year-old kid, the one who graduated from high school, who had a job and something of a life.
Then Ward brought me back to reality.
"Guns in the city," he said, grabbing my full attention in his Hartford courtroom, one of three created by Gov. M. Jodi Rell to exclusively address gun crimes.
The kid had a loaded gun and was walking around the city. Another weekend brings another round of shooting deaths. Do we need to know more?
For a few days last week I listened to the tales of gunplay that unfold in Ward's courtroom. Teenagers with a sawed-off rifle. An assault rifle in a car, a shotgun hidden in the ceiling, a pistol in the pocket of a kid. A gun in the face of a pizza delivery person.
"Guns in the city," Ward said. "That is a factor that the court is addressing for the safety of the community."
Maybe this isn't a bad idea. Get the guns and the people holding them off the street, before another 14-year-old is shot dead in his bed.
So I didn't linger over some 20-year-old oaf with a loaded .22 caliber handgun, the fact that he had never been arrested.
We worry that he's going to shoot someone, not that he grew up without a mother or a father and that high schools turn out "graduates" who can't pass competency exams.
The kid went to jail for a year. Fine, I think.
Rell ordered creation of the "gun courts" earlier this summer, with seasoned judges and prosecutors assigned to a docket containing only gun crimes.
"Initially, I was somewhat skeptical. We have been focusing on guns for a number of years," said New Haven State's Attorney Michael Dearington. Now Dearington sees the courts bringing longer sentences, clarifying the need to get tougher with repeat offenders.
Commissioner of Public Safety Leonard Boyle told me the idea "is to send the message to the community that gun violence is not going to be tolerated."
I'm with the commissioner. But then there's that kid, the Weaver grad with the worthless diploma.
"Does he need to go to a University of Crime, which is what our prisons are?" a lawyer who regularly appears in gun court asked me. In gun court, there is little consideration of who is holding the gun.
In gun court, bond is higher and sentences are longer. Gone is the possibility of a lenient judge or "accelerated rehabilitation" and endless court hearings that dribble into little jail time.
Providence began a gun court a dozen years ago and they've begun to catch on. New York, Philadelphia and other major cities are using them, responding to a swelling wave of firearms violence.
Some hope that these courts are a sign that Rell will pay more attention to urban violence and its roots, such as the people bringing in the guns and the poverty behind it all. But, as Ron Pinciaro of CT Against Gun Violence told me, "It's a campaign year. Who knows?"
So I go back to Ward's courtroom. Another young man appears, another one just dim enough to be riding around with a loaded gun.
Arrested in May, he's off to jail by August. This is gun court. I'm glad for it.
"I hope this is the end of your involvement with this kind of activity," Judge Ward said to him. "I hope you do your best to stay out of trouble when you get out."
I'm sorry about these kids going to jail. I feel worse about the ones who die.
Reprinted with permission of the Hartford Courant.
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