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Violence begets violence

Mar 28, 2007 Violence begets violence

Image from the Government Printing Office’s website.

Violence begets violence. Consequently, the fewer weapons in the courtroom (other than trial exhibits) the better.

However, a Texas legislator has introduced a bill that "would add deputy prosecutors who handle felony cases to the list of individuals, including judges and district attorneys, who can bring a concealed weapon into court."

Yes, prosecutors (and sometimes criminal defense lawyers for that matter, among others) are at real risk of violence from some criminal defendants and their supporters. However, letting prosecutors pack pistols in the courtroom only helps escalate the cycle of violence rather than helping to break the cycle. Moreover, it is hard to expect that a prosecutor with limited handgun safety experience will have sufficient time and opportunity to become sufficiently trained and retrained so as to trust the prosecutor with a handgun in the highly-charged atmosphere of the courtroom. Felony prosecutors ordinarily are too occupied with their cases to be finding the time to know how to use a handgun properly, not to fire one with a hair-trigger attitude, and not to hit innocent bystanders in a crowded courtroom while their attention is focused not on courtroom security but on winning their case.

If the prosecutor is carrying a handgun, I will not want the prosecutor coming near defense counsel table, lest my client feel threatened by the approach of an armed opponent.

My client’s knowledge that the prosecutor — just a few feet away — is packing a pistol will not assist my client’s reaching calm before the jury, will not assist my client in conferring with me during the trial, and, therefore, will deprive my client of the Sixth Amendment right to a fair jury trial and to effective assistance of counsel. Furthermore, I want a prosecutor to be as receptive as possible when we need to discuss on-the-spot issues in the courtroom (e.g., stipulations to exhibits, or renewed settlement negotations); a concealed handgun just gets in the way of such open and effective communications.

Seeing that prosecutors are public servants charged with serving justice, they should not be packing pistols in the courtroom, but instead should be taking the critical road to teaching and achieving peace, even though the peaceful path can be more arduous, dangerous, and slower than firing a bullet against an actual or perceived assailant. If people want to be able to physically defend themselves, effective non-lethal options abound. However, nothing beats knowing how to defuse and de-escalate a dangerous situation with words (and silence) and with physical withdrawal from the dangerous situation.

Even though I advocate robust Second Amendment rights, I applaud when people make a personal choice not to own or use handguns. I do not buy the view of the NRA convention attendee who urged that the best way to show my child I love him is to be armed at home. The best way for me to show I love him is to hug him in my arms literally and figuratively, and to live that way every minute of the day. Jon Katz.

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