We seem to be caught in a moment somewhere between reform or revolution. Change policing and the criminal justice system via legislation, or the angry mob will do to the nation what it did to the statue of anti-slavery hero Hans Christian Heg and Senate Democrat Tim Carpenter in Madison, Wisconsin the other night. While I believe in the right of revolution, I can’t imagine a less inspiring group of Americans to follow into battle than the useful idiots and fellow travelers who’ve fallen in line behind Marxist rebels without a clue in trying to start one, each single statue or busted up Starbucks at a time.
So, I’m on team reform, broadly speaking, though I certainly don’t support every measure that’s been tossed into the political arena lately. I’ve written before about my objections to no-knock raids, support for body cameras, and other policing reforms. On the other hand, I don’t support bail reforms that automatically let many individuals back out on the street after they’ve been charged with violent offenses.
I’m seeing a little more talk about the idea of reforming plea bargains these days and I’m glad to see it. Every day on Bearing Arms’ Cam & Co I have a segment called the Recidivist Report (formerly the Deal of the Day, as in “plea deal”) highlighting a sweetheart of a deal offered to a criminal defendant.
Today, for example, I highlighted the case of 21-year old Divine Hill of Gastonia, North Carolina, who was charged back in February with attempted first degree murder after firing at least six shots into an occupied home. Earlier this week, Hill accepted a guilty plea in the case.
During an appearance on Monday, June 22 before Gaston County Superior Court Judge David Phillips, Hill agreed to plead guilty to one count of discharging a weapon into occupied property.
In exchange for the plea, prosecutor Chad Smith agreed to dismiss the attempted first-degree murder and felony conspiracy charges.
Phillips sentenced Hill to between 20 and 36 months in prison, but agreed to suspend the sentence on the condition Hill undergo supervised probation for 30 months.
Hill, who had no prior convictions, was credited with the 81 days he’s spent in jail awaiting his court date. He was represented by Gastonia attorney David Hoyle.
So basically, what prosecutors originally described as attempted first degree murder will be punished with less than three months of jail time. Even taking into account the fact that Hill doesn’t have any previous convictions, doesn’t that seem awfully light for shooting off six rounds into an occupied home? And there are no shortage of stories like this, unfortunately. I’ve found multiple examples every weekday for more than fifteen years of hosting Cam & Co.
Meanwhile, gun control advocates like Joe Biden are hoping to empower states to implement New York-style gun licensing laws, which, unless they too are plea bargained away, can send people to prison for years for simply possessing an unlicensed firearm in public. It’s ridiculous to send people to prison for simply having a gun when we’re handing out probationary sentences to people who try to kill someone with one.
The flip side of under-sentencing is overcharging, where prosecutors through every possible charge at a defendant and then offer them a plea bargain, saving the time and expense of a trial, but at the cost of the Sixth Amendment right to a trial by jury and potentially coercing defendants into accepting a plea bargain because of the potentially lengthy sentence they would receive if convicted of all charges at a trial. You’ll almost certainly get guilty parties to take that plea, but more and more voices in the legal system, including a number of judges, are acknowledging that innocent people plead guilty too, overwhelmed by the prospect of spending a good chunk of their life in prison for a crime they didn’t commit. An unbelievable 97% of felony cases in this country are resolved via a plea bargain, and the results show that the system is open to be abused in many ways.
When gun owners say that we need to focus on enforcing existing laws, this is exactly what we’re talking about. Stop using public safety as the excuse to push criminal penalties for things like owning a 20-round magazine. Quit making it impossible for the average person to legally own and carry a firearm through exorbitant fees and using discretionary policies that allow for denials even though they’re not prohibited by law from owning a firearm. These policies actually create illegal gun possession cases in high crime neighborhoods, as people decide it’s better to be judged by twelve than carried by six and carry a firearm illegally, though only for self-defense. What’s considered a protected right in most places is considered a felony offense in some of our biggest cities.
Gun control laws create gun crimes. They take a legal activity and impose criminal sanctions on it, sending people to prison for doing something that was perfectly legal a day earlier, and in fact is probably still legal in a neighboring state. Despite their public embrace of policing and criminal justice reform, gun control advocates (including Joe Biden) have a laundry list of new, non-violent crimes that they want to be enforced by armed agents of the State and prosecutors in a court of law.
While the criminal justice system is proving itself incapable of taking seriously someone who nearly killed a woman, Biden’s embraced the Bloomberg model of state laws that put people in prison for simply carrying a firearm without a license. Here’s another problem: these offenses are also likely to be plea bargained down, with repeat offenders and those with long criminal histories still receiving plea deals on a regular basis in New York City. Adding more laws to a broken system only increases its dysfunction, yet that’s exactly what Biden and most Democrats want to do, because it’s a fundamental part of the gun control movement.
Reforming the criminal justice system should include rejecting that agenda, as well as taking existing dumb, non-violent offenses off the books entirely. Start to rebuild a culture that respects and embraces our Second Amendment rights, after decades of attempts to de-normalize gun ownership among in urban areas and among racial minority groups. It’s time to re-normalize gun ownership in these cities, along with the responsibility that comes with exercising your rights.
If cities want to spend millions on “violence interruptors,” that’s fine, but they should cough up some coin to educate young residents about their Second Amendment rights and responsibilities, and push campaigns to promote opportunities for training and education. Embrace gun ranges, encourage competitive shooting, and the re-establishment of a culture of responsible gun ownership.
Enacting these reforms would free up space in the criminal justice system, reduce plea bargains, redirect law enforcement resources to violent offenders, while offering an opportunity to empower more Americans to exercise their constitutional rights. They’re measures that will save lives, make neighborhoods safer places, and respect the constitutional rights of all Americans. And as long as the gun control movement has their way, we’ll never see any of them enacted.