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May 25, 2022

So many depressing stories in a country awash with so many guns

Another week brings news of another horrific mass shooting in the USA, this one ever so depressing because its victims were so many young children murdered at an elementary school.  And, sadly, mass shootings are only one component of modern depressing gun realities in the United States: recent years have brought increases in gun homicides as gun sales have continued to spike.  While recent homicide numbers would seem to undercut narratives that more guns mean more safety, I have come to doubt that any horrible mass shooting or any detailed data are likely to alter our nation's current gun policies or politics.

That said, particularly with a major Supreme Court Second Amendment ruling likely in the works, I still find data about how existing gun laws are criminally enforced to be noteworthy.  And this data can also be quite depressing, as evidenced by this new lengthy local article headlined "There’s a large racial disparity in federal gun prosecutions in Missouri, data shows."  Here are excerpts:

[Darrell] Hargraves [in 2018] became one of more than 3,600 people convicted between 2015 and 2021 for federal firearm possession in Missouri, which outranks the rest of the nation for its rate of prosecution of such crimes.

In an analysis of federal sentencing and crime data, The Kansas City Star found Black people were disproportionately convicted for illegally carrying firearms compared to white people.  They were also sentenced more harshly.

In the Eastern District, a federal court jurisdiction that includes St. Louis, 81% of those convicted of illegal firearm possession in the past seven years were Black. In the Western District, which includes Kansas City, 54% were Black. Together the two districts cover the entire state of Missouri.  The state’s population is 12% Black.

In the Western District in 2020, Black people were also more than twice as likely to receive sentences above the recommended guidelines for firearm possession compared to white people, according to data from the United States Sentencing Commission.

Don Ledford, a spokesman for the U.S. Attorney’s Office in the Western District, said the office did not have demographic information on gun possession convictions.  “Race is not a factor in prosecutorial decision making or sentencing recommendations,” Ledford said.  “Therefore, we don’t track defendants or cases on that criteria.”

But researchers, advocates and community members say when it comes to carrying guns, Black people are treated differently as a result of the structure of the state’s gun policies and uneven enforcement.  “There was certainly a racial politics on who got to carry a gun ... There were African American men who tried to open carry and would get attacked or shot,” said Dr. Jonathan Metzl, author of “Dying of Whiteness” and director of the Center for Medicine, Health, and Society at Vanderbilt University.  “They’re seen as criminals.”...

Hargraves said he wants to see the community be safer. “I do understand there are individuals that regardless of race are harming people,” he said. “My problem lies … in unfairness, the unfairness in sentencing, the unfairness in prison, the unfairness in not assessing the overall situation.”

The Eastern and Western districts of Missouri ranked first and sixth, respectively, for the number of people incarcerated for illegal firearm possession in any federal district in 2021.  The year before, they ranked first and third.

The rate of firearm possession began to noticeably increase in Missouri’s federal districts in the early days of Project Safe Neighborhood, a U.S. Department of Justice program that began in 2001, said Ken Novak, a criminal justice professor at the University of Missouri-Kansas City.  It brought together federal, state and local law enforcement officials, prosecutors, community leaders, and other stakeholders to identify the most serious violent crime problems in each region. In Missouri’s federal districts, that was gun violence and homicides, said Novak.  That led to more federal prosecutions for gun violations....

However there is little evidence to suggest incarcerating people for firearm possession helps curb violent crime or targets those who perpetrate gun violence in their communities, according to research by legal experts and federal defenders.  In Missouri, the majority of violent crimes are committed by people under the age of 30, according to data from the FBI’s Uniform Crime Reporting program.  Meanwhile, 63% of those convicted for federal firearm possession in the state are 30 or older.

May 25, 2022 at 08:00 AM | Permalink


This story reaffirms the fact that Federal law enforcement have nothing better to do. The Feds are going after older convicted felons for possessing guns. 30-40 years ago, Federal law enforcement aggressively prosecuted organized crime figures and drug kingpins. Now, Federal law enforcement is wasting resources to arrest folks like Hargraves, that hasn't committed a violent felony in over 15 years. It's time to revamp Federal sentences guidelines and make most of these offenses parole eligible, reduce the inmate population and cut the budgets in half for the DEA, ATF and FBI.

Posted by: anon | May 25, 2022 11:52:19 PM

We started off with "a well-regulated militia being necessary to the security of a free state, the right of the people to keep and bear arms shall not be infringed."
So how did we get from that proposition to letting 18 year olds buy AR 15's and unlimited ammunition and shoot and kill elementary school kids? This maniac was not so "well-regulated," was he?

America is always touted as the "exceptional" country. It is indeed; we kill more kids than any other. And all we do is send our "thoughts and prayers." Very depressing. I pity parents with young kids.

Posted by: Michael R. Levine | May 26, 2022 11:00:01 AM

Here in Lexington, Kentucky, we had a record 34 homicides in 2021. But in May 2022 alone, we have had 11 homicides. Yesterday afternoon, a 64-year old man with no prior criminal history shot and killed his wife and two adult daughters in their home. Triple homicides are quite rare in Central Kentucky. It appears that he may have had aa psychotic break with reality. Time will tell. The police cannot stop these homicides -- all they can do is respond and react after they occur.

Posted by: Jim Gormley | May 26, 2022 11:10:09 AM

The state and federal Republican lawmakers preach about the sanctity of life when railing against the abortion of a foetus while at the same time blocking bills that would broading background checks for purchasers of firearms. Apparently, they care more about the life of the foetus than the life of their own children and grandchildren.

Posted by: anon1 | May 26, 2022 4:48:55 PM

@Michael Levine. I agree with your assessment. Gun violence is a unique American problem. Conservatives hold firearms in higher regard than children (even their own) and have a perverse love for the 2nd Amendment. I'm beating a dead horse by stating that gun control would curb gun violence, and Republicans will oppose it. Still, it's my hope that one day a majority of Americans push for sweeping legislative reform regarding guns.

Posted by: anon | May 26, 2022 10:13:56 PM

The "orinalists" talk about the framers of the Second Amendment. They forget about or elide the introductory clause "a well regulated militia." That aside, as has been pointed out by many folks,the Amendment was written at a time when folks had muskets. Do we really think that the framers had in mind 18 year olds possessing AR 15's or AK47's???

Posted by: Michael R. Levine | May 28, 2022 1:29:37 PM

No, the framers didn't even fathom the types of guns available to the public in 21st century America. The Heller decision essentially overturned roughly 130 years of precedent regarding the 2nd Amendment. The "originalist" Scalia didn't adhere to precedent and opined, "Oh yeah, forget the introductory clause, the 2nd Amendment provides an individual right to bear arms." So much for originalism.

Posted by: anon | May 30, 2022 12:50:50 PM

Canada just proposed legislation making possession and transfer of handguns illegal; and will buy back rifles. New Zealand and Australia have done things similar. We Americans continue to watch our children die in school shootings; our citizens be shot in gang warfare; our friends and relatives commit suicide with guns. We love our guns more than our children, more than our neighbors. And so-called patriots we are the "exceptional" country. Ha! We sit back and do nothing while gun violence kills every day; we are exceptional indeed; we are a nation of monsters.

Posted by: Mary from Kansas | May 31, 2022 10:30:40 PM

You’re a felon. You gave up your rights when you committed a felony

Posted by: Steve | Jun 6, 2022 3:02:52 AM

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