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Utah DA Swears Off Plea Bargins For "Gun Crimes"

AP Photo/Wilson Ring

The term “gun crime” is a phrase that specifies violent crimes committed with a firearm. How this is somehow worse than “knife crime” or “hammer crime” is a concept lost on me, but it’s apparently enough of an issue that it deserves all of our focus.

In Salt Lake City, the district attorney has had enough of such crime. In fairness, I think everyone has had enough. Yet he’s taking steps to address the issue.

Due to the recent uptick in violent crime in Salt Lake County — particularly crimes involving guns — Salt Lake County District Attorney Sim Gill announced Wednesday that he has a message for those who engage in gun violence:

“You are put on notice starting today, there will be no more plea bargains and we will throw the book at you.”

Gill stood with Salt Lake City Police Chief Mike Brown and Salt Lake County Sheriff Rosie Rivera to announce he has instructed his prosecutors to aggressively go after people who are arrested and charged with committing violent crimes with a gun.

“Effective immediately, starting today, no criminal charge arising from the use of a gun or relating to an unlawful use or possession of a gun in the commission of a crime will be reduced as a part of any plea bargain. Put another way, there will be no plea bargains for gun crimes in Salt Lake County,” he said.

The new policy comes in light of the Utah Department of Public Safety’s recent Crime in Utah report for 2020 which showed a 44% increase in homicides from the year before. According to the state’s statistics, there were 93 homicides in 2020. A firearm was used in 67% of those killings compared to 55% a year ago.

Last year, Gill said his office screened 87 murder and attempted murder cases. This year, his office is already at 78 cases as of Wednesday with 2 1/2 months still to go in the year.

So clearly, Gill felt he needed to do something.

Since the district attorney is an elected office and just waiting for things to settle down is probably a bad strategy for reelection, he’s probably right.

That brings us to whether this is a good idea or not.

For me, it’s more complicated than I might have thought. On one hand, the idea of being tough on crime is a solid one that I can get behind 100 percent. Refusing plea bargains and getting heavier sentences in court would put some of the worst offenders behind bars for a long, long time.

This is a good thing.

What bothers me, though, is the continued idea that somehow a violent crime committed with a firearm is a worse offense than if someone had used any other weapon. Yes, guns are more effective weapons, but it’s not the only one.

Frankly, I’d rather be shot than beaten so severely with a blunt instrument like a hammer or bat that I suffer a permanent brain injury, as an example. Why then should the hammer-wielder have an opportunity at a plea bargain when the guy who fired a round that didn’t hurt anyone doesn’t?

Both are crimes, to be certain, and I’m fine with being tough on both.

My issue is that Gill’s effort is really nothing more than the continued demonization of firearms. The term “gun crime” is simply one part of that demonization, but treating offenses with a firearm as somehow inherently worse than similar offenses with other weapons sure isn’t helping with that.

If you want to deal with “gun crime,” it’s important to remember that gun in this phrase is an adjective modifying the word “crime.” Focus on the noun, not the adjective, and the rest will take care of itself.

Dec 08, 2021 12:30 PM ET