EagleTribune.com, North Andover, MA

January 16, 2013

Editorial: Bonilla sentence betrays futility of gun laws

The Eagle-Tribune

---- — While our nation’s political leaders prepare further restrictions on law-abiding gun owners, a recent case from Lawrence suggests our justice system cares little about the actual use of guns in the commission of crimes.

Today, President Obama is scheduled to announce his plans to get sweeping new firearms restrictions passed by Congress. These measures are expected to include limits on ammunition magazine capacity and a revival and strengthening of the expired assault weapons ban. If passed, mere possession of one of these banned weapons or magazines could subject an otherwise law-abiding gun owner to severe fines and possibly incarceration.

But use a gun in the actual commission of a crime and you can expect kid-glove treatment from our judicial system.

Jamel Bonilla, 19, the son of Lawrence Deputy police Chief Melix Bonilla, was charged with two counts of armed robbery and illegal possession of a firearm. The charges stem from an incident in October 2010 in which the younger Bonilla and two others tried to rob two men on Caulkins Court in Lawrence.

Prosecutors said the incident was a drug deal gone bad. The two victims had agreed to pay $3,000 for 200 prescription painkillers.

Bonilla was carrying a silver handgun belonging to his father. Prosecutors say that during the incident, one of the other men charged along with Bonilla used the gun to beat one of the victims.

Bonilla pleaded guilty yesterday to illegal possession of a firearm and two counts of armed robbery. He was sentenced to 18 months in jail to be followed by four years probation.

The mandatory minimum sentence for illegal possession of a firearm in Massachusetts is 18 months.

So Bonilla took a handgun which did not belong to him and for which he was not licensed and used it in the commission of an armed robbery — a robbery involving the trade of illegal drugs. For this, he received a minimum jail sentence and a few years of probation.

Is it any wonder that supporters of Second Amendment rights have little faith that the host of new gun laws to come will have any effect on the use of firearms in the commission of crimes?

As with previous versions of anti-gun legislation aimed at “protecting” society, the law-abiding will have their rights whittled away. Meanwhile, for violent criminals who use guns to rob, murder and commit general mayhem, it will be business as usual.

For the law-abiding, owning a gun will become more risky. A gun owner may face the loss of his savings, his home, his career or even jail time simply because his rifle has some cosmetic features that make it an “assault weapon” or because some politicians have decided that a magazine holding seven rounds is safe while one that holds 15 is a deadly threat to society.

Criminals calculate risk, too. They figure that using a gun to get the money, drugs or power they want is well worth the off chance they might have to spend a few months in jail.

Until we change that equation, until we make the penalties for using a gun during the commission of a crime so severe that even low-wattage criminal types think twice before doing so, we can expect little improvement in crime rates for our gun-control efforts.