Category Archives: Firearm

The Increase in Gun Violence Appears To Be The “New Normal”

An expert on trends in gun sales and gun violence in pandemic America

Journalist Martin Kaste reports in NPR that shootings spiked during the Pandemic, and this appears to be the “new normal.”

Hopes for a rapid decline in the pandemic murder spike are fading. Although national statistics for 2022 aren’t yet available, an informal year-to-date tally of murders in major cities is. The total count in those cities has dipped slightly lower than last year, but it’s still well above pre-pandemic levels. And in 40% of the cities listed, homicides are trending higher.

Some of the worst trouble spots are cities such as Philadelphia and Baltimore, where year-to-date homicides are rivaling the high tallies of 2020 and 2021. In Portland, Ore., the mayor has declared an “emergency” over gun violence, as the city struggles to reel in an annual murder count that shot up to 88 in 2021, from 36 in 2019. Even some smaller cities, such as Little Rock, Ark., are in danger of eclipsing last year’s murder numbers.

The Nature of Gun Violence Has Changed

But it’s not just that the numbers remain high. The nature of the gun violence itself has changed, according to those who watch these crimes closely.

“The ’90s was more gang-oriented, there was much more organized, sort of targeted shootings . . . Today, it’s petty offenses, petty conflicts, reckless shootings.” ~King County Prosecutor Elyne Vaught

Vaught says you can see the “rise in reckless-type shootings” in the county statistics, where the number of shots fired has more than doubled, compared to the same period in 2019, and with more shots fired per victim.

According to Kaste’s article, police around the country have noticed this trend. A new report from the Major Cities Chiefs Association points to “incidents of individuals indiscriminately shooting into large crowds while discharging massive amounts of ammunition,” such as the April mass shooting in downtown Sacramento.

The chiefs point to the availability of extended ammunition magazines, as well as the growing popularity of “auto sear” switches, small after-market devices that turn semi-automatic Glock pistols into illegal automatics, capable of spraying bullets. (Similar attachments are also exist for AR-15-style rifles, but police worry more about handguns, which are used far more often in crimes.)

Gun Violence Often Starts Online

Temple University criminologist Jason Gravel, who studies how young people acquire and use guns, says the role of social media may be the biggest change of the last few recent years.

“It might look like some random shooting on the street, but if that was preceded by a bunch of verbal threats online or in social media, you don’t see the first part of the conflict, you just see the end result,” ~ Jason Gravel, Temple University Criminologist.

More Guns Are Available

There may have been more guns around for kids to find. Firearms dealers reported record sales during the pandemic, and a recent article in the Annals of Internal Medicine estimates that 2.9% of U.S. adults became new gun owners. By extension, the authors estimate 5 million children were “newly exposed” to firearms in their households.

It’s hard not to view these incidents as yet another result of America’s polarized gun debate. Many Americans hold their right to bear arms, enshrined in the US Constitution, as sacrosanct. But critics of the Second Amendment say that right threatens another: the right to life.

Please contact my office if you, a friend or family member are charged with a Firearm Offense or any other crime. Hiring an effective and competent defense attorney is the first and best step toward justice.

U.S. Supreme Court Expands Gun Rights

Gun Bans and Regulations: From a Second Amendment Advocate – The Wildezine

In New York State Rifle & Pistol Association v. Bruen, the U.S. Supreme Court held that Americans have a right to carry firearms in public for Self-Defense. Their ruling marks a major expansion of gun rights after a series of mass shootings. It’s also a ruling likely to lead to more people legally armed.

BACKGROUND FACTS

The state of New York passed a law requiring a person to show a special need for self-protection in order to to receive a license to carry a firearm outside their home. Robert Nash and Brandon Koch challenged the law after New York rejected their concealed-carry applications based on failure to show “proper cause.” A federal district court dismissed their claims, and the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit affirmed. The U.S. Supreme Court took the issue up on appeal.

LEGAL ISSUE

Does New York’s law requiring that applicants for unrestricted concealed-carry licenses demonstrate a special need for self-defense violate the Second Amendment?

COURT’S ANALYSIS & CONCLUSIONS

Holding: New York’s proper-cause requirement for obtaining an unrestricted license to carry a concealed firearm violates the Fourteenth Amendment. It prevents law-abiding citizens with ordinary self-defense needs from exercising their Second Amendment right to keep and bear arms.

Justice Clarence Thomas wrote the majority opinion and said the following:

“The constitutional right to bear arms in public for self-defense is not “a second-class right, subject to an entirely different body of rules than the other Bill of Rights guarantees. The exercise of other constitutional rights does not require individuals to demonstrate to government officers some special need. The Second Amendment right to carry arms in public for self- defense is no different. New York’s proper-cause requirement violates the Fourteenth Amendment by preventing law-abiding citizens with ordinary self-defense needs from exercising their right to keep and bear arms in public.” ~Justice Thomas, United States Supreme Court

With that, the Supreme Court reversed the lower federal court’s holding.

The Court’s split was 6-3 with the court’s conservatives in the majority and liberals in dissent. Justice Alito filed a concurring opinion. Justice Kavanaugh filed a concurring opinion, in which Chief Justice Roberts joined. Justice Barrett filed a concurring opinion. Justice Breyer filed a dissenting opinion, in which Justices Sotomayor and Justice Kagan joined.

In a dissent joined by his liberal colleagues, Justice Stephen Breyer focused on the toll from gun violence. He wrote that since the beginning of this year, there have already been 277 reported mass shootings — an average of more than one per day. He accused his colleagues in the majority of acting “without considering the potentially deadly consequences” of their decision. He said the ruling would “severely” burden states’ efforts to pass laws “that limit, in various ways, who may purchase, carry, or use firearms of different kinds.”

Several other conservative justices who joined Thomas’ majority opinion also wrote separately to add their views.

Justice Samuel Alito criticized Breyer’s dissent, questioning the relevance of his discussion of mass shootings and other gun death statistics. Alito wrote that the court had decided “nothing about who may lawfully possess a firearm or the requirements that must be met to buy a gun” and nothing “about the kinds of weapons that people may possess.”

“Today, unfortunately, many Americans have good reason to fear they will be victimized if they are unable to protect themselves.” The Second Amendment, he said, “guarantees their right to do so.”

Justice Brett Kavanaugh, joined by Chief Justice John Roberts, noted the limits of the decision. States can still require people to get a license to carry a gun, Kavanaugh wrote, and condition that license on “fingerprinting, a background check, a mental health records check, and training in firearms handling and in laws regarding the use of force, among other possible requirements.”

Please contact my office if you, a friend or family member are charged with Firearm Offenses or any other crimes. Hiring an effective and competent defense attorney is the first and best step toward justice.

Offender Scores Include Bail Jumping Even When the Underlying Conviction Was Dismissed Under State v. Blake

Felony Sentencing Guidelines | California Felony Attorney

In State v. Paniagua, the WA Court of Appeals held that convictions for Bail Jumping are appropriately included in the offender score even when the offender failed to appear at a scheduled hearing for a pending charge of Blake-related Drug Offense.

FACTUAL BACKGROUND

This appeal considered one of many consequences attended to the Washington Supreme Court’s landmark decision in charge of State v. Blake. The decision held Washington’s possession of a controlled substance criminal statute unconstitutional. In turn, Washington courts have removed, from offender scores, earlier convictions for possession of a controlled substance.

This appeal travels further down the path and asks whether a court should remove, from the offender score, a former conviction for bail jumping when the offender failed to appear at a scheduled hearing while on bail pending charges for possession of a controlled substance.

Victor Paniagua only challenges his sentence for his 2018 convictions for Homicide and other crimes. The relevant facts begin, however, with earlier convictions.

In 2007, the State of Washington convicted Victor Paniagua with unlawful possession of a controlled substance. In 2011, the State again convicted Paniagua with possession of a controlled substance and the additional charge of bail jumping. The bail jumping charge arose from Paniagua’s failure to appear at a court hearing on the 2011 possession charge.

In June 2018, a jury found Victor Paniagua guilty of second degree murder, second degree assault, unlawful possession of a firearm, and witness tampering. The trial court calculated Paniagua’s offender score at 8 for the murder and assault charges. It also calculated a 7 for the unlawful firearm possession and witness tampering charges. The offender score calculation included one point each for the 2007 and 2011 possession of a controlled substance convictions and one point for the 2011 bail jumping conviction. As a result, the
court then sentenced Paniagua to 453 months’ total confinement.

After the issuance of State v. Blake, Mr. Paniagua requested resentencing. He argued the superior court should resentence him and reduce his offender score by three points. Ultimately, the superior court deducted only two points from Paniagua’s offender score. The superior court resentenced Paniagua to 412 months’ total confinement.

COURT’S ANALYSIS & CONCLUSIONS

The Court began by saying that State v. Blake held that Washington’s drug possession statute violated the due process clause. The statute penalized one for passive, innocent, or no conduct without requiring the State to prove intent.

“The Washington Supreme Court also did not address, in State v. Blake, the retroactivity of its decision,” said the Court of Appeals. “Nevertheless, the State and other courts have operated on the assumption that Blake should be applied retroactively. If a statute is unconstitutional, it is and has always been a legal nullity.”

Next, the Court of Appeals decided whether the bail jumping conviction was invalid on its face. When a defendant is convicted of a nonexistent crime, the judgment and sentence is invalid on its face. Here, however, the State did not convict Mr. Paniagua of a nonexistent crime when convicting him of bail jumping. “The crime remains in existence today,” said the Court of Appeals. “The conviction is not facially invalid.”

Next, the court raised and dismissed Paniagua’s arguments that the State convicted him of bail jumping while facing charges brought pursuant to an unconstitutional statute:

“Still, he cites no decision supporting the proposition that being convicted or held, under an unconstitutional criminal statute, renders escaping from jail or bail jumping permissible. To the contrary, under the universal rule, the unconstitutionality of a statute under which the defendant was convicted or charged does not justify escape from imprisonment . . . We find no decision addressing bail jumping when facing charges under an unconstitutional statute.” ~WA Court of Appeals.

With that, the Court of Appeals affirm the superior court’s inclusion of Victor Paniagua’s 2011 conviction for bail jumping in his offender score and affirmed his resentencing.

Please contact my office if you, a friend or family member are charged with a crime. Hiring an effective and competent defense attorney is the first and best step toward justice.

High Court: Race Must be Considered in Determining Legality of Police Stops and Seizures

Center for the Study of Race and Law | University of Virginia School of Law

In State v. Sum, the WA Supreme Court held that  a person’s race – and law enforcement’s long history of discrimination against people of color – should be taken into account when determining the legality of police seizures.

FACTUAL BACKGROUND

The case concerns Palla Sum, a person of color who identifies himself as Asian/Pacific Islander. Mr. Sum was sleeping in his car in Tacoma one morning in April 2019 when police came upon him. Deputy Rickerson An officer ran his plates. The car was not stolen. There is no indication that it was parked illegally. Nevertheless, the car attracted the deputy’s attention because “it was parked there.”

The officer knocked on the window, asked Sum questions and asked him for identification. Sum gave a false name and the officer went back to his cruiser to check records. Sum then drove off, crashed into a front lawn and was caught as he attempted to run away.

Sum was subsequently charged with Making a False Statement, Eluding and Unlawful Possession of a Firearm, after a gun was found in his car.

Sum filed a pretrial motion to suppress pursuant to CrR 3.6. He argued that he was unlawfully seized without reasonable suspicion when Deputy Rickerson requested Sum’s identification while implying that Sum was under investigation for car theft. The court denied Sum’s motion to suppress. It ruled that because Sum was not seized when Rickerson asked him to identify himself, because the did not retain Sum’s physical identification to conduct his records check. Sum was convicted of all three charges by a jury.

Although the WA Court of Appeals upheld his conviction, Sum again appealed to the WA Supreme Court. He argued  that there is no justification—aside from unacceptably ignoring the issue of race altogether—for courts considering the totality of the circumstances to disregard the effect of race as one of the circumstances affecting evaluation of police contact.

COURT’S ANALYSIS & CONCLUSIONS

The WA Supreme Court discussed the standard of review for addressing similar cases. It reasoned that the search and seizure inquiry is an objective test. An allegedly seized person has the burden to show that a seizure occurred. It further clarified that a person is seized if, based on the totality of the circumstances, an objective observer could conclude that the person was not free to leave, to refuse a request, or to otherwise terminate the encounter due to law enforcement’s display of authority or use of physical force.

The Court also took its “objective analysis” test a step further:

“For purposes of this analysis, an objective observer is aware that implicit, institutional, and unconscious biases, in addition to purposeful discrimination, have resulted in disproportionate police contacts, investigative seizures, and uses of force against Black, Indigenous, and other People of Color (BIPOC) in Washington.” ~Justice Mary Yu, WA Supreme Court

Furthermore, wrote the Court, if the person shows there was a seizure, then the burden shifts to the State to prove that the seizure was lawfully justified by a warrant or an applicable exception to the warrant requirement.

Next, the Court applied its now race-conscious test to the facts of the case. It reasoned that based on the totality of the circumstances, Mr. Sum was seized when Deputy Rickerson requested Sum’s identification while implying that Sum was under investigation for car theft.

“As the State properly concedes, at that time, the deputy did not have a warrant, reasonable suspicion, or any other lawful authority to seize Sum,” wrote Justice Yu. “As a result, Sum was unlawfully seized, and the false name and birth date he gave to the deputy must be suppressed. We therefore reverse the Court of Appeals and remand to the trial court for further proceedings.”

My opinion? Good decision.

In an amicus brief, public defender and civil rights groups argued that law enforcement’s history of discriminating against people of color needs to be reflected in how the law is interpreted. The groups, including the King County Department of Public Defense and the ACLU of Washington, wrote the following:

“Centuries of violence and dehumanizing treatment of people of color have required BIPOC communities to develop survival strategies that demand over-compliance with law enforcement . . . For courts to continue to blind themselves to that reality when evaluating the freedom an individual would feel to unilaterally terminate a law enforcement contact is to further enshrine existing racial disparities into the legal system.”

Please review my Search & Seizure guide and  contact my office if you, a friend or family member are charged with a crime. Hiring an effective and competent defense attorney is the first and best step toward justice.

U.S Supreme Court Could Soon Expand the Right to Carry Guns.

Supreme Court to Hear Gun Control Case - The New York Times

Journalist Amber Philips reports that the U.S Supreme Court could soon drastically expand the right to carry guns. New York State Rifle & Pistol Association v. Bruen will be the court’s first major Second Amendment case in more than a decade. It takes place amid rising national gun violence and an uptick in gun sales in recent years. In short, what the justices decide could unravel laws across the nation restricting who can carry guns in public.

BACKGROUND FACTS

For 108 years, New York State Law law holds that anyone who wants to carry a gun in public must adhere to specific guidelines. They must apply for a license, be at least 21, have no criminal record, and have “good moral character.” This is the part really being challenged — a demonstrated need to carry the gun beyond average public safety fears. This is known as “proper cause.”

Two men from Upstate New York challenged the state’s law when they applied to carry a gun at all times but received allowances only for hunting or going to and from work. They sued, arguing the strict law violated their Second Amendment rights to “keep and bear arms.”

Even though the law has been on the books for so long, it’s at risk of being knocked down now by a newly cemented conservative Supreme Court majority. And depending on how widely the justices rule, they could knock down other state laws like it.

Supporters of New York’s Law

Mostly liberal states such as California, Hawaii, Maryland, Massachusetts, Connecticut and New Jersey have similar public carry restrictions, and so do several big cities. Supporters of these laws argue that they’re necessary in high-density areas and that the Constitution allows states to govern themselves. Supporters also argue that such restrictions have been around for centuries. By itself, this shows the value society has placed on public safety over gun rights in public places.

Opponents of New York’s Law

Critics say requiring people to justify why they need to carry a gun in public puts a burden specifically on the Second Amendment’s right to “bear” arms. Challengers to the law told the Supreme Court that a person should not have to show a “special need” to exercise a constitutional right.

According to journalist Amber Philips, this case has mixed up traditional political lines on guns. Several Republican lawyers filed a brief supporting laws like New York’s, arguing that specifically in the District of Columbia, public carry restrictions “may well have prevented a massacre” at the Capitol on Jan. 6, 2021. Meanwhile, a group of public defenders in New York City argue that the law disproportionately affects the constitutional rights of Black and Latino New Yorkers.

This Case Could Affect Gun Laws Across the Nation

The Supreme Court hasn’t weighed in recently on whether the Second Amendment protects carrying guns outside the home. In 2008’s District of Columbia v. Heller, the court said the Second Amendment protects the right to own a gun for self-defense in the home, and in McDonald v. Chicago in 2010, it made clear that state and local gun control measures (and not just federal ones) also must respect that right.

New York City officials fear that the Supreme Court could force the state to allow more people to carry more guns in public places. Gun violence there has doubled in recent years, from their historic lows in the years before the pandemic.

“In a densely populated community like New York, this ruling could have a major impact on us.” ~New York Mayor Eric Adams

Washington’s firearms laws are codified in chapter 9.41 RCW. Cities, towns, counties, and other municipalities may also have certain laws and ordinances affecting the use, possession or sale of firearms. You can contact your sheriff’s office or police department through the local city or county government to determine if any local laws have been adopted.

Please contact my office if you, a friend or family member are charged with a Firearm Offense or any other crime. Hiring an effective and competent defense attorney is the first and best step toward justice.

High Court Decides COVID-19 Trial Restrictions Violated the 6th Amendment

Texas jury trials a challenge in coronavirus pandemic | The Texas Tribune

In U.S. v. James David Allen II, the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals vacated a defendant’s Firearms Offense conviction because COVID-19 protocols had precluded the public from observing his trial.

BACKGROUND FACTS

In July 2020, police officers were dispatched to a residential street in Pinole, California. Police found Mr. Allen asleep in a stolen car, with weapons. An inventory search uncovered a loaded AR-15 style rifle. The officers arrested Allen. Apparently, Allen traveled from Washington State to California and intended to harm a San Francisco stockbroker. Allen later told the court that a drug relapse led to his life unraveling. He was subsequently indicted on federal charges of being a felon in possession of a firearm and ammunition.

At the height of the coronavirus pandemic in 2020, the federal district court prohibited members of the public from attending court hearings. During trial, the federal court denied the defendant’s suppression hearing and rejected his request for video-streaming of the proceedings. Allen was found guilty of being a felon in possession of a firearm and was sentenced to six years in prison.  On appeal, he argued the court’s order violated the defendant’s Sixth Amendment right to a public trial.

COURT’S ANALYSIS & CONCLUSIONS

In a 3-0 decision, the 9th Circuit decided the lower federal court violated Mr. Allen II’s Sixth Amendment rights.

The Court explained that the “public trial” guaranteed by the Sixth Amendment is impaired by court rules that precludes the public from observing a trial in person. The violation of rights happens regardless of whether the public has access to a transcript or audio stream. Consequently, the lower court’s order effected a total closure. All persons other than witnesses, court personnel, the parties and their lawyers were excluded from attending the suppression hearing or trial.

“Although a listener may be able to detect vocal inflections or emphases that could not be discerned from a cold transcript, an audio stream deprives the listener of information regarding the trial participant’s demeanor and body language,” the court found. “Nor can a listener observe the judge’s attitude or the reactions of the jury to a witness’s testimony, or scan any visual exhibits.”

“We conclude that the district court’s order was not narrowly tailored, in part because courts throughout the country, facing the same need to balance public health issues against a defendant’s public trial right, consistently developed COVID protocols that allowed some sort of visual access to trial proceedings.” ~9th Circuit Court of Appeals

As a remedy, the 9th Circuit remanded Allen’s case back to the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California for a new trial. It also ordered that Allen be given a new pretrial hearing to argue for the suppression of certain evidence.

My opinion? Good decision. Defendants have a right a public trial, period. No amount of court restrictions should violate that right. However, it is unclear what potential implications the appeals court’s ruling could have on other cases held under similar COVID-19-related restrictions.

Please contact my office if you, a friend or family member are charged with Firearm Offenses or any other crime. Hiring an effective and competent defense attorney is the first and best step toward justice.

More Guns Are Being Stolen Out Of Vehicles

332 guns have been stolen from Nashville vehicles in six months | WZTV

According to NBCnews.com, more guns are being stolen out of vehicles in many U.S. cities. New data analysis reveals this alarming trend as shootings rise nationwide, propelled in large part by firearms obtained illegally.

Journalist Melissa Chan reports that from 2019 to 2020, at least 180 cities saw a rise in gun thefts from vehicles. This now makes up the largest source of stolen guns, according to the nonprofit Everytown for Gun Safety. The study analyzed FBI crime data from 2011 to 2020, spanning up to 271 small-to-large cities across 38 states.

The nonprofit, which advocates gun violence prevention, found that in 2020, an estimated 77,000 guns were reported stolen in these 271 cities alone. Of those, more than half were taken out of vehicles — a stark difference from a decade ago, when the majority of gun thefts were from burglaries and less than a quarter were from cars, according to Everytown.

The trend can be seen in states and cities across the country. In South Carolina, gun thefts from motor vehicles climbed to more than 5,100 in 2021, from roughly 4,200 in 2019, according to the statewide data provided by the South Carolina Law Enforcement Division. In Hampton, Virginia, the number of motor vehicle larcenies in which a firearm was stolen jumped to 142 incidents in 2021, from 88 in 2019, Police Chief Mark Talbot said. Many of the stolen firearms have turned up at crime scenes.

While it’s too soon to definitively say what’s driving the shift, experts said it’s likely exacerbated by many factors, including a surge in firearm purchases during the pandemic. In 2020, the FBI conducted nearly 40 million firearm background checks, more than any year on record, according to the agency’s data. During that time, experts said, Covid also kept more people at home and made easier targets of unoccupied and less-used cars.

Please contact my office if you, a friend or family member are charged with a crime. Theft of a Firearm and other Firearm Offenses are debilitating felonies. Hiring an effective and competent defense attorney is the first and best step toward justice.

WA Supreme Court Rules Against Edmonds Gun Storage Law

Gun Laws - FindLaw

In Bass v. City of Edmonds, the Washington Supreme Court struck down an Edmonds gun storage ordinance in a court order reaffirming state law that local governments can’t impose their own firearms regulations.

FACTUAL BACKGROUND

After robust debate following a mass shooting at the nearby Marysville Pilchuck High School, the Edmonds City Council adopted an ordinance requiring residents to safely store their firearms when not in use. Ordinance 4120, codified as Edmonds City Code (ECC) chapter 5.26. The ordinance contains two operative provisions. Under the “storage provision,”

“It shall be a civil infraction for any person to store or keep any firearm in any premises unless such weapon is secured by a locking device, properly engaged so as to render such weapon inaccessible or unusable to any person other than the owner or other lawfully authorized user.”

“Notwithstanding the foregoing, for purposes of this section, such weapon shall be deemed lawfully stored or lawfully kept if carried by or under the control of tthe owner or other lawfully authorized user.”

ECC 5.26.020. Under the “unauthorized access” provision,

“It shall be a civil infraction if any person knows or reasonably should know that a minor, an at-risk person, or a prohibited person is likely to gain access to a firearm belonging to or under the control of that person, and a minor, an at-risk person, or a prohibited person obtains the firearm.”

Violation of either provision carries a civil fine of as much as $10,000 if an at-risk person or child gained access to an unsecured gun.

At around the same time, Washington voters enacted Initiative 1639. This initiative, among many other things, criminalizes unsafe storage of firearms but in more limited circumstances than Edmonds’ ordinance. Unlike the City of Edmonds ordinance, the voter  initiative – later codified as RCW 9.41.360 – specifically did not mandate how or where a firearm must be stored.

The legality of the Edmonds’ ordinance was challenged and eventually made its way to the WA Supreme Court.

COURT’S ANALYSIS & CONCLUSIONS

First, the Court found that the plaintiffs had legal standing to challenge the ordinance.

Next, the Court turned to the issue of whether existing statute under RCW 9.41.290 preempts this ordinance. The statute reads the following, in part:

“The state of Washington hereby fully occupies and preempts the entire field of firearms regulation within the boundaries of the state, including the registration, licensing, possession, purchase, sale, acquisition, transfer, discharge, and transportation of firearms, or any other element relating to firearms or parts thereof, including ammunition and reloader components. Cities, towns, and counties or other municipalities may enact only those laws and ordinances relating to firearms that are specifically authorized by state law, as in RCW 9.41.300, and are consistent with this chapter.”  ~RCW 9.41.290

Ultimately, the court ruled that Washington state law RCW 9.41.290  “fully occupies and preempts the entire field of firearms regulation within the boundaries of the state.”

Thursday’s ruling was a victory for gun rights organizations, such as the National Rifle Association and the Bellevue-based Second Amendment Foundation, both of which participated in the legal challenge.

Please contact my office if you, a friend or family member are charged with a firearm offense or any other crime. Hiring an effective and competent defense attorney is the first and best step toward justice.

Pandemic Gun Sales

Coronavirus: US gun sales soar amid Covid-19 pandemic fears - YouTube

Great article in the thetrace.org by reporter Champe Barton discusses new data suggesting a connection between Pandemic gun sales and increased violence.

In March 2020, as the first COVID-19 outbreaks rippled across the U.S., Americans flocked to gun stores. In total, civilians purchased some 19 million firearms over the next nine months — shattering every annual sales record. At the same time, shootings across the country soared, with dozens of cities setting grim records for homicides.

Fresh data from the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF) provides some of the first evidence that a relationship exists.

ATF data shows that in 2020, police recovered almost twice as many guns with a short “time-to-crime” — in this case, guns recovered within a year of their purchase — than in 2019. Law enforcement officials generally view a short time-to-crime as an indicator that a firearm was purchased with criminal intent. This is because a gun with a narrow window between sale and recovery is less likely to have changed hands. Altogether, more than 87,000 such guns were recovered in 2020, almost double the previous high. And almost 68,000 guns were recovered in 2020 with a time-to-crime of less than seven months. This means they were less likely to have been purchased the previous year.

Put more plainly, thousands of guns purchased in 2020 were almost immediately used in crimes — some as soon as a day after their sale. That was the case of the 9mm Beretta pistol purchased by an Arlington man from Uncle Dan’s Pawn Shop and Jewelry in Dallas, according to police records. Officers seized the gun from its owner during a drug arrest 24 hours later. In another example, a Laredo, Texas, man assaulted his mother, then opened fire on police with his Smith & Wesson M&P 15-22 rifle in July 2020. The gun had been purchased at a Cabela’s in Ammon, Idaho, just three months earlier.

The research shows that immediate booms in access to firearms almost always lead to corresponding spikes in violence.

Dr. Garen Wintemute directs the Violence Prevention Research Program at UC Davis. He wasn’t surprised that the largest increase in access to firearms in history happened alongside a parallel surge in violence.

“It can be difficult or impossible statistically to sort out the contributions that any one of these [phenomena] made” to the rise in violence . . . But the bottom line is, if the prior research holds up and increases in access are associated with increases in violence, we’re in for a very rough time ahead.” ~Dr. Garen Wintemute

Please contact my office if you, a friend or family member face firearm offenses or any other crimes. Hiring an effective and competent defense attorney is the first and best step toward justice.

Not a Toy, Still a Gun

Kessler Arms 12Ga. Bolt Action Shotgun

In State v. Gouley, the WA Court of Appeals held that an antique shotgun that was missing a bolt action was still a “firearm.”  The State merely has to establish that the shotgun was a real gun, not a toy gun.  The State was not required to prove that the firearm could be rendered operational with reasonable effort and within a reasonable period of time.

FACTUAL BACKGROUND

Gouley was convicted of a felony and was under community supervision when he missed an appointment with his community corrections officer. Because of Gouley’s failure to report, the Department of Corrections issued a warrant for Gouley’s arrest.

Several officers attempted to locate Gouley at his listed residence to execute the warrant. The officers found Gouley asleep in his bedroom. In searching the bedroom, the officers discovered a shotgun under Gouley’s bed. Gouley was previously convicted of a serious offense and was prohibited from possessing a firearm.

After Gouley was placed in the squad car, he said the shotgun was given to him by his great uncle. The shotgun was a 20-gauge bolt action shotgun made by Kessler Arms. Although the company was out of business, the shotgun is not rare and is relatively inexpensive. When the shotgun was discovered under Gouley’s bed, it was missing a bolt action assembly and was not operable in that condition.

The State charged Gouley with one count of First Degree Unlawful Possession of a Firearm
and one count of Escape from community custody.

At trial, the judge instructed the jury on the definition of “inoperable firearms.” The instruction said that a “temporarily inoperable firearm that can be rendered operational with reasonable effort and within a reasonable time.” Also, a “disassembled firearm that can be rendered operational with reasonable effort and within a reasonable time” met the definition of a firearm. Gouley consented to the use of this instruction. The jury convicted Gouley as charged. Gouley appealed on arguments that the State failed to present sufficient evidence to sustain his conviction.

COURT’S ANALYSIS & CONCLUSIONS

The Court of Appeals defined the term “firearm” under the statute. A “firearm” is a “weapon or device from which a projectile or projectiles may be fired by an explosive such as gunpowder.” Furthermore, a firearm need not be operable in order to qualify as a firearm under the statute. Instead, the inquiry is whether the firearm is a “gun in fact” rather than a “toy gun.”

The Court reasoned the evidence sufficient to show that the device at issue was a firearm  because it was a gun in fact and not a toy. “Although the shotgun was missing a bolt action, Schoeman testified that the gun could be made operable and could fire if a bolt or bolt assembly is inserted into the receiver.”

The Court raised and dismissed Gouley’s argument the firearm was inoperable. Gouley pointed to the fact that there was something wrong with the firing pin of that firearm or maybe the trigger spring, or the firing pin spring.

“However, the fact that the shotgun was defective or inoperable when it was discovered does not mean that the shotgun was a toy, or anything other than a “gun in fact.” And whether the device was a gun in fact is the only relevant determination that the jury had to make.” ~WA Court of Appeals

Ultimately, the Court reasoned the evidence established that the firearm possessed by Gouley met the definition of firearm. With that, the Court of Appeals upheld Gouley’s conviction.

Please contact my office if you, a friend or family member are charged with a crime. Hiring an effective and competent defense attorney is the first and best step toward justice.



Alexander F. Ransom

Attorney at Law
Criminal Defense Lawyer

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