Last month, at John Jay College in New York City, Governor Andrew Cuomo announced the state’s new “red flag” gun law, which will make it easier for officials to confiscate guns from people deemed an “extreme risk” to themselves or others. Joining Cuomo was House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, who described the law as imperative to “the survival of our children.” Cuomo said that when it comes to gun violence, “something has to be done because we are literally losing human life.” Cuomo and Pelosi invoked mass shootings to explain why the red-flag law is necessary.
But mass shootings on the order of Sandy Hook and Parkland, while horrible, are not typical of most of America’s gun violence. More often, shootings are committed by individuals already legally prohibited from carrying the firearms they used. Most U.S. shootings resemble what New Yorkers saw in the Bronx last month. On February 22—three days before Cuomo signed the red-flag bill— Edgar Garcia, a 16-year-old gang member, according to the NYPD, opened fire on a crowded street in broad daylight, nearly hitting a little girl. The shooting was caught on video, leading to Garcia’s prompt arrest. A few days later, Garcia posted $10,000 bail; he’s back on the street.
Garcia’s case might get transferred to family court, where any sentence is likely to be much less severe, thanks to New York’s Raise the Age law, which Cuomo signed in 2017. Not long after Raise the Age went into effect, 17-year-old Frank Valencia was, per the New York Post, given probation and youthful-offender status in a case “involving his possession of a semi-automatic handgun, 300 rounds of ammunition plus a machete and a set of brass knuckles.” A week after his release, Valencia shot a female police officer in the face, at point-blank range.
Pelosi and Cuomo have been vocal supporters of “sanctuary” policies that prohibit cities and states from working with federal immigration officials to identify criminal illegal aliens eligible for deportation. That support had consequences on Super Bowl Sunday, when Queens subway riders ran for cover after what started as a fistfight ended with a deadly mid-afternoon shooting. The alleged triggerman—an illegal immigrant and MS-13 member with a history of arrests—was, it turns out, free on $2,500 bail at the time of the shooting. He had been indicted (along with 11 others) on conspiracy charges a few months earlier.
In each of these cases, violent criminals were set free and then went on to commit violent crimes with guns. The legality or illegality of guns was not the issue in any of these crimes, because none of the perpetrators was legally allowed to possess a firearm. The real question is why they were let loose.
In cities across the country, most serious violent crimes—especially gun crimes—are committed by repeat offenders. In Chicago, someone arrested for a homicide or shooting in 2015–2016 had, on average, “nearly 12 prior arrests, with almost 45 percent [of those offenders] having had more than 10 prior arrests,” according to the University of Chicago Crime Lab. In Baltimore, “85 percent of the 118 murder suspects identified by police [in 2017] had prior criminal records,” according to the Baltimore Sun. The Sun also found that “the average homicide suspect . . . had 9 previous arrests on his record” and that “nearly 36 percent were on parole or probation.” A Bureau of Justice Statistics report on violent felons convicted in America’s 75 largest counties between 1990 and 2002 found that “Seventy percent of violent felons had a prior arrest record, and 57 percent had at least one prior arrest for a felony.”
Despite these numbers, liberals and progressives continue to call for more leniency for criminals, which would erode the benefits—above all, incapacitation—that current incarceration practices provide. After every mass shooting, Democratic politicians demonize conservatives for their opposition to gun-control measures. But the Left’s staunch opposition to incapacitating violent and repeat offenders casts doubt on how serious these gun-control advocates are about stopping gun violence.
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