NEW YORK—Firing a gun near a park, a playground, or a school could soon carry a heavier sentence than doing so elsewhere. And if a bullet from that gun strikes a child younger than 10, the sentence would be even harsher.
A state bill that would do just that was promoted Wednesday by state Sen. Jeffrey Klein and Assemblyman Luis Sepulveda. The bill is called Luisito’s Law after a 3-year-old who was shot last year in August by a man who opened fire near Vidalia Park in the Bronx.
The boy was walking home with his mother and twin sister when the bullet skimmed his stomach and went into his arm. Fortunately, an ambulance was nearby and Luisito was immediately sent to the hospital where the bullet was removed.
The gunman who injured Luisito is awaiting trial for assault charges that carry a minimum penalty of only one and a half to four years in prison. Under the proposed legislation, those who fire guns within 500 feet of a park or playground will face at least three and a half years in prison. If those shots strike a young child, the penalty will increase to be between 5 and 15 years in prison.
“This law targets the two most disturbing parts of this particular case: the fact that a child was struck by a bullet, and the fact that it took place near a crowded playground,” said Sepulveda.
Sepulveda lives two blocks away from Vidalia Park and had heard the gunshots on the night of the incident.
“This is important to me because I have a 2-year-old child that I raise here and my wife and I bring the child to this park quite often,” said Sepulveda. “So I ask myself, what if that day it had been me, my wife, and my 2-year-old child at the park?”
A Grandmother’s Lament
Luisito ‘s grandmother Lorine Padilla believes that the bill, if passed, will ultimately make gunmen think twice before shooting near children.
“It won’t help my case, but I don’t ever want to see another grandmother or another mother or father go through what I went through when my grandson was shot,” she said.
“The saddest thing was for me to see myself in the hospital when the doctors were sticking their fingers inside a hole in his arm to try to pull out that bullet.”
Even though Luisito has recovered physically, Padilla said that the trauma brought about by the experience has caused serious emotional damage to her grandson.
“He’s become more introverted, he’s become a little more fearful,” she said.
Yi Yang is a special correspondent in New York.