Does Gun Possession Merit Life Behind Bars?

Hundreds of Californians have been jailed for life for felony firearm possession under the state's "Three Strikes" law. Now, the state has reformed the harsh law, and these convicts are asking for reconsideration. Is mere gun possession bad enough to lock someone up forever?

The "Three Strikes" law, which jails people for 25 to life for their third felony conviction, has been acknowledged as an overaggressive policy failure by most reasonable people. Last year, California voters passed Prop 36, which allowed those who had been convicted under Three Strikes to appeal for softer sentences. A step in the right direction, but the execution of the law has been plagued by inconsistencies. Different judges in different jurisdictions have different opinions on whether and how sentences should be reduced.

Today, the LA Times examines one slice of the Three Strikes prison population: those whose third strike came for possession of a firearm by a convicted felon. That's just possession, not possession while using the gun to, say, rob someone. The paper counts more than 280 Three Strikes convicts who fall into this category.

The legal question for these convicts centers on whether possession of a firearm qualifies as being "armed during the commission of a crime," which would disqualify them for a more lenient sentence under Prop 36. To me, a layman, it seems rather Orwellian to define possession as being identical to "armed during the commission of a crime," given the fact that the crime in question would be... possession. Anyone with great insight into the finer points of this law is invited to weigh in below.

Generally speaking, any legal reform that will give old convicts sentenced to ridiculous lengths in prison for relatively minor crimes a chance to get the hell out would seem to be a good thing.

[Photo: AP]