If you take the anti-gun advocates at their word, they care about preventing tragedies like the murders at Sandy Hook and Uvalde and mass attacks like the one that occurred in Las Vegas. They desire to stop a select group of individuals who are criminally disposed and perhaps unbalanced from buying, possessing and using firearms to murder and maim. On its face, it is an understandable desire. Certainly, no one who legally owns a firearm wants to see anyone murdered, let alone children.
However, their solution is to make buying, selling and using firearms both difficult and prohibitively expensive — not for criminals, but for everyone else. And don’t even mention the Second Amendment to these folks; they’ll tell you they don’t care about what it says. They haven’t read the Heller decision, and they have no desire to. They believe that the only way to stop these murders is to fundamentally destroy gun rights.
When evil occurs, it is somehow you, the law-abiding gun owner, who’s at fault. Some states ban certain kinds of ammunition and tax other types at confiscatory rates. No one ever explains — or even attempts to explain — how making it harder for good people to get guns keeps bad people from obtaining them.
The reason you own and carry firearms in the first place is because you understand that simply living on Earth exposes you to the risk of death from criminal violence. And depending on where you live, you may have an increased risk of death from criminal violence. The government at the federal, state and local level is not capable of protecting you in spite of law enforcement’s best efforts. Even worse, district attorneys in some jurisdictions are undermining law enforcement and, as a result, failing to curb crime in their respective cities.
Preventable Officer Deaths in LA
Joseph Santana always wanted to be a police officer in his hometown of El Monte, California. His family members were public servants, and he wanted to serve alongside them. After six years working in the city maintenance department, he qualified and became a San Bernardino County sheriff’s deputy. Later he joined the El Monte Police Department as a patrol officer.
His training officer, Cpl. Michael Parades, was also from El Monte and served as a cadet before becoming a patrol officer in 2000. He worked his way up through the ranks to serve and protect. He was well-liked and well-respected.
On June 15, 2022, Santana, described as a great son, brother, father and husband, did not get to come home from work. He had been on the job for less than a year. His partner, Parades, described as having a huge heart and big hugs for everyone, died alongside Santana in a motel shootout while saving a woman held at gunpoint by a domestic abuser and revolving-door criminal.
Both officers gave their lives to save Justin Flores’ wife, Diana. She had tried to warn them he was armed. Both officers knew the risks, but they had a job to do. Flores backed into the motel bathroom when the officers entered in pursuit of him, then came out shooting, murdering both officers with head shots. Flores was shot dead by other officers.
As tragic as these officers’ deaths in defense of the defenseless are, what is maddening about the situation is that the deaths were completely preventable had the justice system worked. Flores, a career criminal, should never have been out of jail.
He had been convicted of first-degree burglary in 2011. He served two prison terms: one for the burglary, and one for car theft. As a result of his convictions and prison time, Flores was a prohibited possessor. He could not legally pass a background check or buy his firearm at a gun store. Still, in one of the most strictly regulated states in the country as far as firearms go, he had no difficulty illegally obtaining a pistol and replacing it when police seized the first one.
In 2020, Flores was again arrested, this time for felon in possession of a firearm and methamphetamine. Because of Los Angeles District Attorney George Gascón’s official policies, the prosecutor charged with prosecuting the case wrote that he had to revoke the strike from the prior burglary conviction. Otherwise, Flores would be sent away for as long as three years. That is exactly what should have happened, and if he had been sent away, he would have been nowhere near that motel in 2022.
Instead, Flores served 20 days (you read that right: days) in the county jail and drew two years of probation. His probation officer, one day prior to the shooting, filed for revocation of the probation after Flores was charged with domestic violence. The probation officer did not seek to arrest Flores.
In a statement filed by the district attorney’s office, it contended that “the sentence he received in the firearms case was consistent with case resolutions for this type of offense given his criminal history and the nature of the offense.” The district attorney’s office further noted, “At the time the court sentenced him, Mr. Flores did not have a documented history of violence.” For a man who possessed a firearm illegally and, with it, methamphetamine, it is difficult to see the “no documented history of violence” statement as a realistic appraisal of his criminal conduct.
Carefully examined, the record shows the justice system had a chance to put this man behind bars for three full years and instead handed him 20 days and probation, which taught him that no one really cares about sanctions for gun-related crimes. So, as soon as he got out of the Los Angeles County Jail, he went out and bought more guns. Two officers died, two families were shattered, and two sets of children are denied their fathers’ guidance. But as bad as the Los Angeles District Attorney’s Office is, it is not alone in adopting these soft-on-crime policies.1
Crime Unchecked in Philly
Philadelphia is a particularly vexing case study in what turning the felony-prosecution system into a giant “let’s make a deal” game does to public safety. Unfortunately, it is also a tremendous example of how not prosecuting firearms-related crime leads to more serious firearms-related crime.
Just as in Los Angeles, Philadelphia lost a police officer to an armed felon. Sgt. James O’Connor, a 23-year veteran of the Philadelphia Police Department, along with other members of Philadelphia’s SWAT team, served search and arrest warrants at a drug stash house operated by a gang on March 13, 2020.2 As O’Connor and his fellow officers ascended the staircase to the second floor of the residence and announced their presence multiple times, Hassan Elliott allegedly fired at them with a rifle 16 times, striking and killing O’Connor.
The veteran officer would likely be alive today if Philadelphia District Attorney Larry Krasner had done his job. On June 8, 2017, Elliott was arrested after he threatened a neighborhood resident with a gun. On Jan. 24, 2018, he entered into a negotiated plea: Krasner’s office offered, and Elliott accepted, a below-guidelines sentence of nine to 23 months’ incarceration, followed by three years of reporting probation. Elliott was paroled on Jan. 25, 2018, the day after his plea; he spent a total of seven months and 16 days incarcerated for this offense.
Following Elliott’s release, the Philadelphia Adult Probation and Parole Department categorized him a “high-risk offender” and placed him under the supervision of a special high-risk unit. Protocol required weekly visits and regular urinalyses. Elliott violated his parole almost immediately by failing numerous drug tests and also by repeatedly failing to report to his parole officer. Eventually, the court scheduled a violation hearing for Feb. 6, 2019.
Prior to that hearing, however, on Jan. 29, 2019, Elliott was arrested and charged with possession of cocaine. After a foot pursuit, police found 15 packets of cocaine in Elliott’s pockets.
This arrest was in direct violation of Elliott’s parole, but the Philadelphia District Attorney’s Office did not pursue a detainer against him or make any attempt to have Elliott taken into custody for this serious violation. The office allowed Elliott to be released on his own recognizance — no bail was set. This is stunning considering that Elliott was on parole for his 2018 firearms conviction. Here, there was an arrest and multiple parole violations and Krasner’s office did nothing to rein in the criminal behavior.
But local U.S. Attorney William M. McSwain did act. He indicted Elliott on four federal charges, including murder in the course of using or carrying a firearm during and in relation to a drug-trafficking crime, meaning the government could seek the death penalty. McSwain also issued a stunning rebuke declaring, “Krasner has much to answer for at this moment in our city’s history.”3
When Krasner was elected district attorney, he ran on a campaign of reducing sentences and not prosecuting minor crimes — ideas that were popular at the time with the electorate. What the public did not realize was that this approach would result not in less-severe sanctions but rather in no sanctions at all in many cases.
Out of a total of 1,810 firearms cases in 2021, a stunning 1,114 (62 percent) were either dismissed or withdrawn, meaning that the offenders were released back on the street with no sanctions for the gun crimes whatsoever. Only 47 (or 3 percent of the total) were found guilty. The remaining 545 cases (30 percent) pleaded guilty. In 2015, when Seth Williams was district attorney, the conviction rate for gun crimes was 73 percent. In 2021, while Krasner held that office, the conviction rate dipped to its lowest ever of 36 percent.
Independent researchers at Big Trial found that, of the 231 violations of the Uniform Firearms Act of Pennsylvania in July 2019, 73 (32 percent) had their charges dropped, dismissed or lost by the district attorney’s office. Only 45 of the offenders (19 percent) pleaded guilty, but of those 45, 40 got lenient county jail terms well below state sentencing guidelines. By November 2020, 16 months after they were arrested in 2019, 76 percent of those offenders were back on the street and free to commit more crime.4
As Krasner took to the airwaves to accuse gun-rights groups of being responsible for mass murder, local residents noted that, only months before, he had lied about the state of crime in Philadelphia.
“[W]e don’t have a crisis of lawlessness, we don’t have a crisis of crime, we don’t have a crisis of violence and that is a category that includes gun violence,” Krasner told reporters at a December press conference. “I think it’s important that we don’t let this become mushy and bleed into the notion that there’s some kind of a big spike in crime — there isn’t. There is not a big spike in crime. That is not true. There is also not a big spike in violent crime. So neither one of these things is true.”5
He later tearfully apologized for this misrepresentation.6
He apologized because both those things were true. The city ended 2021 with 562 murders, roughly 12 percent higher than the previous year. That doesn’t even consider the number of other crimes, such as carjackings.7
In 2021, there were 750 carjackings in the city, nearly double the total for 2020. Only halfway through January 2022, there were 90. In short, there’s a spike in crime in Philadelphia because the criminals there know that there won’t be major life-altering consequences for them under the current administration of justice. Crime continues to go unchecked even at this writing.8
Abysmal Effort in St. Louis
St. Louis has a similar district attorney as Philadelphia. Kim Gardner, the subject of a Missouri Bar ethics investigation, has allowed crime to multiply in the Show Me State’s largest city.
In 2021, there were 6,017 violent crimes in St. Louis, or 19.9 per 1,000 residents. Your chance of being a victim of violent crime in St. Louis is 1 in 50. In the rest of the state, it is 1 in 184. That could be because Gardner has dismissed more than one-third of the felony cases filed in her district. In other words, if you commit a felony in St. Louis, you stand a 33 percent chance of not even having to go to court.9
As if that were not bad enough, Gardner has been at war with the police and the police union since taking over — just what you want in a prosecutor if you’re an armed carjacker. In March, officers of the St. Louis Metropolitan Police Department arrested a gun-toting carjacker who, almost unbelievably, attempted to carjack a marked police car with a loaded firearm. The prosecutor’s response was to dismiss all charges. The reason given? Supposedly, the police made the whole thing up. Gardner released snippets of video that appeared to show an unarmed man. The police publicly expressed dismay that the prosecutor failed to mention that the man had confessed and that the full video of the event was not released.10
Gardner has even sued the police department, claiming they were part of a conspiracy trying to block criminal justice reform.11 (If the reform is to issue get-out-of-jail-free cards to armed carjackers, one would hope the police union would oppose it.)
Gardner also maintains a list of officers whom she has determined “lack credibility.” If a particular case involves an officer from that list, the case is automatically dismissed. All the while, crime runs rampant in the city and felonies get dismissed.
Often, when charges are filed, such as the case of Brandon Campbell, courts wind up dismissing them. Campbell was charged with the murder of Randy Moore in 2020. In 2021, Circuit Judge Jason Sengheiser dismissed the case, saying, “The Circuit Attorney’s Office is ultimately the party responsible for protecting public safety by charging and then prosecuting those it believes commit crimes. In a case like this, where the Circuit Attorney’s Office has essentially abandoned its duty to prosecute those it charges with crimes, the court must impartially enforce the law and any resultant threat to public safety is the responsibility of the Circuit Attorney’s Office.” Prosecutors hadn’t shown up for scheduled hearings in May, June or July of 2021, prompting the dismissal on speedy trial grounds.12
It seems many federal prosecutors are doing no better than their states’ counterparts. In Chicago, which experienced 8,426 incidents of gun-related violent crime over three years, only 334 federal firearms-related prosecutions were filed by federal prosecutors. The average for Chicago is four prosecutions for every 100 incidents. In St. Louis, federal prosecutors charge 46 prosecutions for every 100 incidents, and in Detroit, that number is 68 for every 100 incidents. Why is Chicago so much lower? No one seems to know. But what is known is that illegal shootings continue to plague the city.13
Punishing Everyone Else
It seems like common sense that if you have gun laws that forbid possession of firearms by felons, every arrested felon in possession of a firearm should be prosecuted in either state or federal court for that crime. Doing so would make carrying a firearm much more dangerous for a felon. Yet, inexplicably, while prosecutors charge these crimes, they often dismiss them or bargain them away for convictions on other crimes, such as robbery and burglary.
With Congress considering new gun laws to prevent atrocities like Uvalde and Parkland, it only seems smart to impose prosecution or non-waiver requirements for violent crimes. In effect, require the prosecution of everyone who uses a gun in a crime and forbid plea-bargaining those charges. But that kind of legislation has no backers in Washington, D.C. One of the measures in the deal involves additional penalties for straw purchases. Yet what good are enhanced penalties for straw purchases when these straw purchasers are rarely, if ever, prosecuted?
Every time there is any rapid mass murder, the first thing anti-gun advocates start chanting is that no gun should ever be sold without a background check. But as the attacks in Uvalde, Parkland and Las Vegas demonstrate, frequently these murderers pass background checks even when they shouldn’t. And if an individual does not pass the check, the ATF is supposed to investigate the circumstances and refer that person for prosecution if he or she knowingly lied on ATF Form 4473.
However, a 2016 audit of the National Instant Criminal Background Check System (NICS) by the U.S. Department of Justice Office of the Inspector General found that over eight years, only 45 percent of the cases referred to the U.S. Attorney’s Office were prosecuted, while 54 percent of those cases were never charged. An Executive Office for United States Attorneys official told the Department of Justice Inspector General that those decisions “reflected the application of the principle of the Department’s Smart on Crime Initiative that directs USAOs (United States Attorney Offices) to prioritize prosecutions to focus on the most serious cases that implicate the most substantial federal interests.”14
But how can that be true when keeping guns out of the hands of felons and domestic-violence perpetrators is the entire purpose of the NICS system? Certainly, an effort on the part of the Department of Justice to prosecute those who lie on Form 4473 and attempt to possess a firearm when they are not permitted should be among the most “serious cases” and “implicate substantial federal interests.”
It would certainly appear that the only thing anti-gun politicians want to do is make gun purchases much more difficult for law-abiding citizens while at the same time doing very little to combat the illegal purchase and use of firearms. The solution is not to take guns out of the hands of law-abiding citizens. It’s to start locking up people who use guns to commit crimes.
(1) Faris Tanyos and Brian Dakss, “2 police officers ‘essentially ambushed,’ shot and killed in Los Angeles County,” CBS News, June 15, 2022, CBSNews.com/news/el-monte-police-officers-shot-killed-los-angeles-county-ambush/; Melissa Gaffney and Meredith Deliso, “Suspect accused of killing 2 cops was on probation for gun possession: Sources,” ABC News, June 15, 2022, https://ABCN.ws/3zDMYR5; Stefanie Dazio and Christopher Weber, “Wife says she tried to warn police before deadly shooting,” AP News, June 15, 2022, APNews.com/article/politics-california-los-angeles-gun-violence-shootings-e31f94e-01b224ea436ef3a676d304ee0; Darleene Powells, “‘I’m so deeply sorry’: Wife of shooter who killed 2 El Monte officers speaks out,” CBS Los Angeles, June 16, 2022, CBSNews.com/losangeles/news/shooter-killed-2-el-monte-police-officers-parolee-served-time-car-theft-burglary; Richard Winton, Andrew J. Campa, Matthew Ormseth and Nathan Solis, “Gunman who killed El Monte police officers faced probation violation at time of shooting,” Los Angeles Times, June 15, 2022, LATimes.com/california/story/2022-06-15/gunman-in-killing-of-el-monte-police-officers-wason-probation-for-gun-charge.
(2) O’Connor was a corporal at the time of his death but was posthumously promoted to sergeant.
(3) “Statement of U.S. Attorney William M. McSwain Regarding the Murder of Philadelphia Police Corporal James O’Connor,” Justice.gov, March 16, 2020, Justice.gov/usao-edpa/pr/statement-us-attorney-william-m-mcswain-regarding-murder-philadelphia-police-corporal; “Statement of U.S. Attorney William M. McSwain in Response to District Attorney Larry Krasner’s Excuses about the Murder of Sergeant James O’Connor,” Justice.gov, March 19, 2020, Justice.gov/usao-edpa/pr/statement-us-attorney-william-m-mcswain-response-district-attorney-larry-krasner-s; “Additional Federal Charges Brought in Superseding Indictment for Murder of Philadelphia Police Sergeant James O’Connor,” Justice.gov, March 31, 2020, Justice.gov/usao-edpa/pr/additional-federal-charges-brought-superseding-indictment-murder-philadelphia-police; “Four Men Indicted on Federal Murder Charges for Death of Philadelphia Police Sergeant James O’Connor,” Justice.gov, Dec. 10, 2020, Justice.gov/usao-edpa/pr/four-men-indicted-federal-murder-charges-death-philadelphia-police-sergeant-james-o-0.
(4) Ralph Cipriano, “State Investigating Krasner’s Failure to Prosecute Gun Crimes,” Big Trial (blog), Jan. 21, 2022, BigTrial.net/2022/01/state-investigating-krasners-failure-to.html.
(5) Shawnette Wilson, “‘We don’t have a crisis of crime’: Krasner says no reason for people to be fearful when they come to Philly,” FOX 29 Philadelphia, Dec. 6, 2021, Fox29.com/news/we-dont-have-a-crisis-of-crime-krasner-says-no-reason-for-people-to-be-fearful-when-they-come-to-philly; Brian Saunders, “D.A. Krasner says there’s ‘not a big spike in crime,’ The Philadelphia Tribune, Dec. 6, 2021, PhillyTrib.com/news/local_news/da-krasner-says-theres-not-a-bigspike-in-crime/article_dd1ad415-b881-5677-98cb-525b6f1c99aa.html.
(6) Tom MacDonald, “Krasner apologizes for comments on Philly’s violence crisis,” WHYY, Dec. 13, 2021, WHYY.org/articles/krasner-apologizes-for-comments-on-phillys-violence-crisis.
(8) Aaron Moselle, “Philly police using ‘every resource available’ to combat surge in carjackings,” WHYY, Jan. 13, 2022, WYYY.org/articles/philly-police-using-every-resource-available-to-combat-surge-in-carjackings.
(10) Jacob Kuerth and Christine Byers, “Man accused of attempting to carjack St. Louis police SUV gets weapons charge,” KSDK, March 23, 2022, KSDK.com/article/news/local/no-charges-man-accused-carjack-st-louis-police-vehicle/63-1eb-4cf87-ece0-43ba-b416-e13df208797f.
(11) Sam Clancy and Jenna Barnes, “Kim Gardner suing city, police union, others, accusing them of racist conspiracy to force her from office,” KSDK, Jan. 13, 2020, KSDK.com/article/news/local/kim-gardner-suing-city-police-union-racistconspiracy/63-b3c7c93e-f6c4-4e12-993e-77babfd8a7ef.
(12) Christian Rehder, “Murder suspect released from custody after multiple no-shows from St. Louis Circuit Attorney’s Office,” The Heartlander, July 22, 2021, HeartlanderNews.com/2021/07/22/murder-suspect-released-from-custody-after-multiple-no-shows-fromst-louis-circuit-attorneys-office. On Feb, 7, 2023, Campbell, 32, received a 15-year sentence after pleading guilty to charges of voluntary manslaughter, armed criminal action and unlawful gun possession. Clarissa Cowley, “St. Louis man strikes plea deal, gets more than a decade in prison for voluntary manslaughter,” KSDK, Feb. 7, 2023, KSDK.com/article/news/crime/st-louis-man-strikes-plea-deal-getsmore-than-a-decade-in-prison-forvoluntary-manslaughter/63-2dcc36af-1b0b-467e-8741-c162f72b74b7.
(14) U.S. Department of Justice Office of the Inspector General, Audit Division, Audit of the Handling of Firearms Purchase Denials Through the National Instant Criminal Background Check System, Report No. 16-32 (Washington, DC: U.S. Department of Justice, Sept. 28, 2016), OIG.Justice.gov/reports/2016/a1632.pdf, iv.