No Prison for Plaxico

While we’re happy Michael Bloomberg has been granted the opportunity to run for a third term, he needs to remember he’s the mayor, not the district attorney. His public display in the wake of the Plaxico Burress incident was that of a man emerging with all rhetorical guns blazing, as the fuming Mr. Bloomberg called for prosecutors to throw the book at the Giants’ star wide receiver and also “go after” the management of a great institution, the New York-Presbyterian Hospital/Weill Cornell Medical Center

Obviously, grave errors were made. Carrying a loaded, unlicensed handgun into a crowded nightclub is a profoundly stupid, dangerous and illegal thing to do. Just as Mr. Burress ended up accidentally shooting himself in the thigh when the gun unexpectedly went off, he could just as easily have wounded or killed another patron. And the hospital should have contacted police immediately when a gunshot victim checked in at 2:20 a.m.

A national celebrity for catching the winning pass in the Super Bowl last February, Mr. Burress is a local hero to thousands of New York school kids. With great honors come great responsibilities; by behaving in such a reckless, irresponsible manner, Mr. Burress has forfeit the goodwill he had built up, and broken a bond of trust. It’s clear he became a bit too enchanted with his own legend; that he shot himself in the proverbial foot is perhaps appropriate for someone whose celebrity had gone to his head to such an extent that he thought nothing of walking around with a loaded gun.

The mayor, however, should avail himself of the luxury of allowing the law to take its course. Charged with two counts of illegal weapons possession, Mr. Burress has pled not guilty. Under New York state law, he faces a possible mandatory minimum sentence of three and a half years in prison. He has also been suspended without pay by the Giants; if the team does not invite him back, he would likely lose the $27 million remaining on his five year contract.

But a rush to punishment serves no one. The district attorney should consider bringing a lesser charge. Sending Mr. Burress to prison would serve as less of an example than making him do extensive community service, such as speaking in schools about the dangers of gun violence. The criminal justice system has the ability to punish; more rarely does it have the opportunity to reform.

Mr. Bloomberg is justly proud of his efforts to eliminate illegal guns from the streets of New York. And he is justly concerned that celebrity status not give anyone a free pass when they break the law. But putting Plaxico in front of school kids, rather than behind bars, could change many lives, rather than ruining one.