Diane Watkins is facing the prospect of prison and the loss of her career.
She is a middle-aged teacher in the Rochester City School District, at the science high school, and is a veteran of the United States Army. She lives on Post Avenue, in the 19th Ward, between Thurston and Woodbine, in a city called “The Murder Capital” of New York.
And for 20 years she has carried a gun.
Legally, with a permit, she has owned and carried a .38.
And for 20 years that has been fine.
But this spring, on the last day of May, as she stood in line to chaperone a group of students across New York harbor to the Statue of Liberty, things went bad.
Things went real bad.
Her gun was in her purse.
And in New York City, that’s a felony.
Her Monroe County pistol permit is valid anywhere in the state, except in New York City. By a fluke of bad law, as an illustration of the double standard of citizenship which New Yorkers face, Diane Watkins’ behavior was criminalized. In almost every state, and in most of the state where she was arrested, that gun would have been legal and fine.
But in a state that boasts of being “The Progressive Capital of the Nation,” stupid laws lead to stupid outcomes.
Like the fact Diane Watkins was taken away to jail, and that she now sits in an administrative assignment in her school district, pulled from the classroom, possibly for good.
Don’t get me wrong.
Diane Watkins broke the law. She should have known better. Upstate permits are not good in the Big Apple, and the Statue of Liberty is treated like an airport, with the same security standards and screening. She was taking a gun where the law says you can’t take a gun.
And we don’t know why she did it.
There is no allegation or suspicion that she had a crime planned. There was nothing apparently that she wanted to do with the gun on Liberty Island.
We don’t know why she had the gun.
But I bet she forgot it.
I bet that she typically carries it in her purse and as she got ready for the field trip to New York City it simply slipped her mind that her gun was in her purse.
I suspect that because it happens across the country almost every day at one airport or another. Law-abiding people, lawfully carrying guns, get caught up in airport security with a gun in their purse or brief case. Time and time again that happens and time and time again officials determine that it is because the person forgot they had the gun.
Certainly, that’s not particularly responsible. But it is fairly predictable.
And it shouldn’t be criminal.
And at most airports, it’s not. Officials get to the bottom of things and the travelers typically go on with their journey. Most who make acceptable arrangements, in fact, get their guns back.
In the case of Diane Watkins, she lost her gun, she lost three days of her freedom, her job is in jeopardy, and she could be looking at seven years in prison.
I believe that is an overreaction.
I do not know Diane Watkins, but I am aware of her. She is an extremely liberal activist who has twice run for elective office and just a week ago stood up and spoke at a raucous press conference defending teacher tenure.
Beyond that, she seems to be a stable employee and a law-abiding citizen. She is an American deserving of the consideration and freedom any American would receive. And though I don’t agree with her politics, I do stand by her rights.
Including the right not to have this blown out of proportion.
I am certain that she was at no point a threat to the students she was chaperoning. Far more likely, had anything bad happened, she would have been their protector. I suspect that a large percentage of American parents – myself included – would be more comfortable knowing that a school chaperone on a trip to a big city was armed.
I hope Diane Watkins’ supervisors and neighbors can understand that her gun – licensed and lawfully carried for 20 years – is not the same thing as the firearms used illegally by street hoods. Though she has been accused of breaking a New York City law, in the totality and normalcy of her life, she is one of the good guys, not one of the bad guys. Her gun is not analogous to the guns used in crime. Her firearm is for peace, not violence – protection, not attack.
To throw this woman out of her profession as the result of some misguided zero tolerance policy would be wrong.
Just as it would be wrong for the courts of New York City to declare her a felon and take away her freedom. She is not a criminal, she is a school teacher. She was not waiting for the boat to Liberty Island as a menace to society, but in an act of service to society.
New York City’s anti-gun laws are stupid, but we are still obligated to obey them. This teacher’s apparent breaking of the New York City gun ban seems to have been innocent and inadvertent. She clearly meant no harm.
So no harm should be done her.
She probably has lost her gun. She probably has lost her permit. She will have to pay an expensive defense lawyer. She may have lost her assignment at the science high school.
Those are all heavy penalties, and they seem more than punishment enough for whatever harm her absent mindedness may have caused.
She apparently broke the law, but she does not seem to be a bad person.
The New York City court system should remember that, and so should the Rochester City School District.
Diane Watkins screwed up.
But she shouldn’t go to prison, and she shouldn’t lose her career.