He was accused of running an illegal gun making operation. So why did he get a slap on the wrist?

AP Photo/Brennan Linsley, File

Back in April, police in Escondido, California arrested 20-year-old Jace Allan Tornio after a traffic stop where officers discovered him in possession of a “loaded unserialized Glock-style firearm,” two “large capacity” magazines, five auto-sears, and about three dozen rounds of ammo. The following day authorities conducted a search of Tornio’s home and found what they called an ““illegal gun manufacturing operation”; 3D printers, gun parts, and more ammo included.

Tornio was looking at ten years behind bars if convicted of all the charges, and would have been facing an even longer sentence if local prosecutors had kicked his case up to the U.S. Attorney in southern California. Instead, prosecutors offered Tornio one helluva deal, and this week Tornio learned his stay behind bars will be a short one; a one year jail sentence and two years of probation.

Given California’s “good time” credits, Tornio might be out and free to celebrate his 21st birthday on the streets; a shockingly light sentence given California’s strict gun control laws and the circumstances of his arrest, which NBC San Diego called “Breaking Bad, but with Ghost Guns”.

“So the officers — after finding this on him and some Glock switches that looked like they had been homemade or manufactured — they decided to write a search warrant for Mister Tornio’s residence, and that’s how they found the larger operation which was being run out of his trailer,” said Suzanne Baerd of the Escondido Police Department.

During a search of Tornio’s home the following day, investigators said they discovered an extensive gun-manufacturing lab inside an RV parked outside the residence. Police released photos of the inside of the RV, showing a pair of 3D printers, 12 pistol lowers and three rifle lowers, nine 3D-printed magazines, as well as additional gun parts, ammunition and another firearm.

“So this is the first time we have seen this in Escondido, but, according to our federal counterparts, this is the way things are probably going to be going,” Baerd said, adding later, “More than anything I am surprised by how easy it is to get the software to be able to print these things. All you need is a 3D printer — the software is free, and then you go buy the polymer or plastic to make the pieces, and that’s really all it takes.”

This is the type of operation that anti-gunners like Gavin Newsom have been screaming about for years now as they pass more and more laws aimed at legal gun owners, but so far there’s been nary a word from the governor about the sweetheart deal delivered to Tornio.

San Diego County Attorney Summer Stephan has largely avoided the “soft-on-crime” label that applies to other prosecutors like Los Angeles County D.A. George Gascon, and she was even opposed by George Soros back in 2018, but honestly, this deal looks like something crafted by Gascon or former San Francisco D.A. Chesa Boudin, not someone who wants to crack down on illicit gun trafficking while leaving lawful gun owners alone.

Tornio’s case sure seems like the type of thing that Stephan would prosecute vigorously; 28 felony and misdemeanor charges including illegally converting semi-automatic firearms into full-auto. At a time when California politicians are bemoaning the rise in unserialized firearms and criminalizing their possession, it’s odd (to say the least) that Tornio would be given a slap on the wrist by San Diego County’s chief law enforcement officer, especially after all the headlines when he was arrested. Were there evidentiary issues that weren’t disclosed in the press? Was Stephan concerned that a jury might engage in a little nullification and acquit Tornio instead of convicting him? Perhaps most importantly, is this deal really not unusual at all, but instead how most cases like this are resolved?

I reached out to Stephan’s office for comment about why the deal was offered, as well as why the D.A. decided to take this case herself rather than refer Tornio’s case to the U.S. Attorney for federal prosecution, and shortly before publication of this story I received the following response from the assistant director of communications in the D.A.’s office:

Many factors are taken into consideration when negotiating an appropriate plea agreement in a criminal case, including a defendant’s criminal history (or lack thereof) and the facts and evidence in the case. Our priority is protecting the public’s safety through fair and equitable justice that holds offenders accountable. In this case, the defendant was sentenced to one year in custody and If he violates the terms of his probation, he will be ordered by a judge to serve the suspended prison sentence.

That doesn’t really explain the rationale behind offering a 90% reduction in the potential sentence he could have received at trial, not to mention the still generous 70% reduction from the 10-year maximum even if Mr. Tornio violates the terms of his probation, but that’s the response from Stephan’s office.

California gun owners should be advised that while Mr. Tornio may have received a slap on the wrist for his alleged gun-making activities they could still be facing serious time and/or excessive fines for things like lawfully purchasing ammunition in Arizona and bringing it back home, possessing a 17-round magazine, or even simply possessing a home-built firearm unserialized and unregistered with California’s Department of Justice.