AP Photo/Alan Diaz, File
There’s a reason why we have a separate justice system for juveniles. Mostly it’s because kids don’t have all the same tools that adults are supposed to have, so they do colossally dumb things for colossally dumb reasons, but rarely out of any malicious intent. We have to punish them, of course, because it’s vital they learn there are ramifications to their actions. However, in many cases, those juvenile offenders take the hit, shape up, and we never have to worry about them again.
Yet in at least one case, the then juvenile offender will have to be punished for the remainder of his life, according to the Washington State Supreme Court.
The Washington State Supreme Court has overturned a lower court order that would have allowed a man convicted of juvenile felonies to get a concealed pistol license.
The court ruled Thursday that a federal prohibition still applies to his juvenile crimes, even though they were later ordered sealed.
The man, Jerry Barr, was convicted of crimes including a pair of Class A felonies in 1992, when he was a minor. In 2016, Barr successfully petitioned to have those records sealed, and then had his gun rights restored in a separate ruling on the basis that they were sealed, and that he had gone a number of years without reoffending.
But when Barr later that year sought a concealed pistol license from the Snohomish County Sheriff’s Office, the agency turned him down, citing his sealed felony convictions and a federal law that broadly prohibits gun ownership by felons. With its ruling Thursday, the court sided with the Sheriff’s Office.
“Obviously I’m really disappointed in the ruling,” said Barr’s attorney, Vitaliy Kertchen, who advertises a specialty in firearm rights restoration cases, in a phone interview.
In other words, an adult is still being punished for stuff he did as a kid.
Now, I don’t know what Barr did. However, by 1992, I do know the most horrific of crimes committed by juveniles were often sent to the adult criminal justice system. Since that didn’t happen to Barr, my guess is that it couldn’t have been that bad.
We routinely deny gun rights to felons, and it’s not something anyone seems interested in changing. Part of that is that so many felons are repeat offenders, after all.
But Barr doesn’t appear to fit that mold. He screwed up in 1992. That’s 27 years ago. Since then, he’s kept his nose at least relatively clean. If he hadn’t, then none of this would have come up.
Generally, we don’t hold the stuff kids do against them for the rest of their life. We seal juvenile records for that reason. Those who are bad seeds screw up as adults quickly enough while those who don’t tend to become model citizens.
The question is, how long are we going to punish people for stuff they did as a kid?
Denying someone their gun rights for something they did as a kid isn’t creating a safer world for us. It’s not about upholding the law, either. It’s about punishing people for the mistakes of their youth.
We say that when someone has completed their sentence, they’ve “paid their debt to society.” It seems like Barr is still paying his.