It didn’t take long for the tragic mass shooting in Sacramento early Sunday morning to become yet another flashpoint in the national debate over gun control. The basic facts were barely coming to light when politicians rushed to call for new gun laws. That’s not how anyone serious about preventing gun violence should proceed.
California already has the strictest gun laws in the nation.
The fact that mass shootings happen even here speaks to the blunt reality that laws have limits, that only law-abiding gun owners follow gun laws and that there are more complicated factors driving not only the broad phenomenon of gun violence but individual acts of gun violence.
In this particular case, Smiley Martin, one of three suspects in the shooting, should not have had a gun. He’s a convicted felon with a record that goes back a decade, with crimes including domestic violence and assault with great bodily injury.
According to reporting by Sam Stanton at the Sacramento Bee, Smiley was sent to prison in 2018 for assaulting his girlfriend, facing a 10-year sentence. He was rejected for parole in 2021 but released less than a year later due to the California Department of Corrections and Rehabiliation’s use of pre- and post-sentencing credits.
In 2021, Sacramento County District Attorney Anne Marie Schubert’s office opposed his parole, citing his lengthy criminal history, which included his 2013 arrest after being found just six months after his 18th birthday transporting an “assault weapon and large capacity magazines to potential buyers.”
In other words, we’re dealing with a situation involving an alleged perpetrator of gun violence who has, for the last decade, operated outside of the law when it comes to guns.
And yet, we’ve heard the president use this shooting to once again call for sweeping federal gun laws, including bans on arbitrary types of firearms.
We’ve also seen Sacramento politicians get in on the action.
There’s a renewed legislative push for bills that, among other things, would make it easier for people to sue gun companies and ban marketing of guns to minors. These are, to be direct, not the proposals of people serious about addressing gun violence.
Regardless of what the answer is or what the appropriate policy is, a more proximal factor one would expect a competent legislature to consider is whether, in fact, Smiley Martin, a violent criminal, should have been released from prison so soon. At the bare minimum, that merits scrutiny, especially if lawmakers are falling over themselves promoting gun control.
We must also take notice that our criminal justice system clearly isn’t doing what it should be doing.
The state of California has long known that the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation hasn’t really been living up to the latter word of its name, despite having a budget that continues to grow largely because Gov. Gavin Newsom loves to throw money at the prison guards union. How about, instead of throwing money at CCPOA, ensuring CDCR offers effective rehabilitation programs? Just a thought.
And of course, there’s the low-hanging fruit. The state maintains an Armed and Prohibited Persons System which, while not perfect, is, as its name suggests, a list of people who should not have guns under the law but are known to have them. Addressing that list is likely to yield more tangible benefits to public safety than proposals targeting law-abiding Californians exercising their constitutional right to keep and bear arms and businesses lawfully serving said Californians.
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