Sifting through knee-jerk reactions

Much has been said concerning former New York Giants wide receiver Plaxico Burress since that infamous Friday night in November of last year, when Burress shot himself in the right leg at a New York nightclub. This event made him an easy target for initial barbs toward his intelligence and jokes about shooting himself in the foot, both figuratively and literally, as charges for the criminal possession of a handgun fell upon Burress. But public sentiment toward the situation has changed since then, coming to a head when Burress’ sentence of two years in prison was finalized in a plea bargain last week, with people beginning to question whether Burress was being made an example by the justice system.

The two-year sentence causes Burress to leave much behind, including a recently signed $35 million contract, a Super Bowl contending team, and a new daughter due at the end of November. In a humanizing interview last week with ESPN’s Jeremy Schap, Burress explained that he only had the handgun with him because teammate Steve Smith had been robbed at gunpoint a few days earlier. That night Burress picked up a teammate who lives near Smith, Ahmad Bradshaw, and thus he brought the gun with him as protection. Burress subsequently kept the gun in the waistband of his pants upon arriving at the nightclub. According to Burress, security allowed him to enter the club with the weapon. Soon afterward, Burress revealed during his interview, the gun dislodged itself and began to slide down Burress’s leg. As he attempted to stop the falling gun, he accidentally pressed the trigger, sending a bullet through his right thigh. Burress was driven to a hospital by teammate Antonio Pierce and was treated for the flesh wound. The hospital did not contact police, as would normally have been protocol in that situation, and Burress also said during the interview that the hospital admitted him under an alias.

The NYPD reportedly did not learn of the Burress situation until it was reported on the news. Only then was he charged with criminal possession of his weapon, as he did not own a license to possess a gun in either New York or his current home state of New Jersey. Even worse, the license he had for a gun in the state of Florida was expired, so Burress didn’t have any business carrying a handgun in any state.
Now, it can be argued that if Burress were the average Joe, he would have slipped through the cracks and avoided charges, since Average Joe would not have gotten the media coverage that Burress received, tipping the NYPD off to his criminal gun possession. Average Joe would also not have had to deal with New York mayor Michael Bloomberg publicly announcing that he should be penalized to the fullest extent of the law. But would Average Joe have been able to get into the club with a gun scot-free? Would Average Joe have received seemingly preferential treatment at the hospital? For every celebrity who is “made an example of” by law enforcement officials, many more are given leniency that the rest of the population does not receive. The U.S. justice system is inherently a subjective process, one that celebrities and average Joes alike must face once exposing themselves to it. Complaining about the incredulity of Burress going to jail for simply shooting himself is ignoring the real situation at hand — that he was illegally possessing a handgun, one that he did not make sure to secure. It is Burress’s responsibility, like anybody else’s, to know the laws of the state he resides in. New York gun laws are as tough as they get, and the sentence he received is completely in line with it.

The bullet that went through Burress’ leg reportedly came very close to hitting a security guard nearby. That Burress was walking around a packed New York City club carrying an unholstered gun, without a safety enabled, is downright scary. Any innocent bystander could have been killed that night by Burress’ reckless behavior. If it’s true that a lower profile individual would have gotten away with a lesser penalty, then that is very unfortunate. Perhaps in most other situations, more leniency may have been exercised, but at least this time they got it