They make it seem like an accident or some kind of random act.
Someone fires a gun out the window of a car. They miss the person they were aiming at, maybe a rival drug dealer or gang member.
Instead, they strike a child walking home from school. Or maybe the bullet goes through the window of a house and kills a baby sleeping in a crib. Or maybe it hits a mom sitting on the front stoop watching her kids draw on the sidewalk with chalk.
On a Sunday evening in Troy earlier this month, 11-year-old Ayshawn Davis was standing with a group of friends on Old Sixth Avenue when he was struck and killed by bullet shot from a car. A suspect in the case was arrested Thursday.
Ayshawn’s death was no accident.
It was no random act.
In every single drive-by, the person who pulled that trigger had knowledge that they could have killed someone. In hundreds of cases, that person is an innocent bystander in the wrong place at the wrong time. Often, the victim is a child.
It’s time New York state took a lesson from other states like Minnesota, Missouri and California and ramped up the penalties for these senseless drive-by shootings by elevating the charge to first-degree murder, punishable by life without parole.
A bipartisan bill proposed by state Sen. Daphne Jordan, R-Halfmoon, and Assemblyman Angelo Santabarbara, D-Amsterdam, would do just that.
The bill (S8988) would add to the state’s first-degree murder charge: causing the death of a victim “while the defendant was in the course of committing or attempting to commit a drive by shooting” — discharging a firearm from a vehicle.
The charge of first-degree murder in New York now only applies to the intentional killings of police officers, first responders and corrections officers while on official duty, murder for hire, torture-murder, and murder committed while committing another violent felony. It carries a penalty of life without parole.
The measure is largely symbolic, as the current second-degree murder charge for drive-by shootings already carries a hefty penalty of 25 years to life in prison.
But perhaps the threat of never being able to get out of prison will deter someone from pulling the trigger.
This legislation should be followed by a more comprehensive effort to address the rampant gun violence in the state and the relative ease at which criminals can obtain firearms – even in a state with among the toughest gun laws in the country.
No one should lose their life by someone’s carelessly murderous act. Raising the penalty for fatal drive-by shootings is a small but necessary step forward.