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Julie Stewart

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Florida Gun Law Gives Disabled Vet the "TSA Treatment"

Posted: 06/08/2012 3:27 pm

Nothing seems to bring the American people together like the TSA's hyper-consistent passenger screening policy. If you are a late-night comedian or applause-hungry politician, all you need to do is read the latest headlines, "TSA pats down child in wheelchair," "TSA gropes cancer-stricken 95-year-old," etc. We know why TSA does it -- they are treating everyone equally; how American! -- and yet we all laugh and shake our heads at the stupidity of thinking grandma and junior are the next Mohammed Atta.

TSA's passenger screening policy is not the only example of the government's moronic and evidence-free allegiance to uniformity. Reflect on mandatory minimum sentencing laws, for a moment. If you do not think they produce the same absurdities as TSA's busy hands, then you need to know the story of Ronald Thompson.

Ronald Thompson is a disabled veteran who spent 14 years in the Army. After his service, Thompson remained active in veterans' affairs. In addition to acting as a Deputy Representative for AMVETS, Thompson accumulated more than 5,000 hours volunteering at the VA hospital in Lake City, Florida helping other retired vets with their rehabilitation.

Thompson was 62 years old in September 2009 when he visited a friend of his, an elderly woman in Keystone Heights, Florida, at the woman's daughter's home. During his visit, his friend's 17-year-old grandson, who had been violent toward her in the past, came by with three friends and wanted to go into his mother's home. Having been instructed by her daughter not to let him into the house, Thompson's friend refused them entry. Her grandson began yelling and cursing at his grandmother. Events escalated to the point where Mr. Thompson felt his friend was in danger. He grabbed his pistol (for which he had a conceal-carry license) and fired two warning shots into the ground to scare off the 17-year-old.

Enter the TSA -- I mean, the State of Florida. Florida has a strict mandatory minimum sentencing law for crimes committed with a gun. Called the 10-20-Life law, people, even first offenders, who commit crimes while carrying a gun get an automatic 10 years in prison. If they discharge the gun, they get 20. And if their shot hits and harms a victim, they get a sentence of 25 years to life.

The law does not seem to be directed at people like Ronald Thompson. In fact, former Florida state legislator, Victor Crist, who wrote the 10-20-Life law in 1999, recently said, "We were trying to get at the thug who was robbing a liquor store who had a gun in his possession or pulled out the gun and threatened someone or shot someone during the commission of the crime."

Apparently, times have changed. Placing simple-minded consistency over common sense, State Prosecutor Angela Corey charged Ronald Thompson with four counts of aggravated assault with a firearm, each carrying a mandatory minimum of 20 years under the 10-20-Life gun law. Thompson rejected a plea deal of three years in state prison because, one, he believed his actions were justified, and, two, because he did not think he would survive three years behind bars; he was already battling diabetes and high blood pressure and had suffered a heart attack.

Alas, a jury convicted Thompson. The 17-year-old belligerent said he felt threatened and Thompson discharged a gun. Case closed. The jury, however, did not know that Thompson faced a minimum of 20 years, and at sentencing, the judge's integrity asserted itself. Having sat through the trial and heard all the facts, the judge announced that to send Ronald Thompson to prison for two decades would be a "crime in itself." The judge sentenced him to three years instead.

This is where the story should have ended, but it did not. On behalf of the state of Florida, Ms. Corey appealed and the appeals court imposed the 20-year mandatory prison sentence.

Ronald Thompson is now 65 years old and, according to his sister, likely to die in prison within six months. His health has continued to deteriorate. He is now nearly blind, seeing only shadows. He walks with a cane and has had prostate surgery and surgery to remove two tumors from his face. He continues to struggle with diabetes and high blood pressure, neither of which is under control.

That any individual, let alone a disabled vet who served his country and community, would be sentenced to 20 years based on these facts would be funny if it weren't so sickening. But that's what happens when mindless and unwarranted consistency trumps common sense.

 
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