In the wake of high-profile shootings in Aurora, Colo., and Sandy Hook, Conn., many people have called for more gun-control laws, when what we really need is tougher punishment for anyone violating the laws we already have.
That’s why the weak sentence given to Johndrick Barnes this past week is a failed opportunity.
Compared to average sentences, five years in prison might seem reasonable for involuntary manslaughter. And it’s obvious that Jamie Gillette Jr., the 19-year-old Belair Conference Center employee shot to death as he tried to herd party-goers to safety two years ago, won’t be brought back to life by a harsher sentence for the man who admitted killing him.
But while every sentence is supposed to punish the criminal and provide justice to the victim, there’s also a third factor: the need to send a warning to others who might commit a similar crime. That’s absent in this case.
The prosecutor and the judge accepted Barnes’ remorseful explanation that he was only firing “into the air” when Gillette was struck by a stray bullet. And certainly it provided a touching moment when members of Gillette’s and Barnes’ families group-hugged.
Yet there is no dispute that Barnes brought a gun to the party that night, pulled it out and fired. Bullets aren’t merely noisemakers, and Barnes’ .380 bullet did what it’s made for: It hit something. Gillette is dead as a result.
For that, Johndrick Barnes deserved the maximum 10-year sentence. Those 10 years still sound weak, but at least it would have sent the stronger warning we must demand for anyone who might illegally use a gun.
The only warning here? When you’re caught, don’t forget to shed tears.