St. Paul newspaper editorial - ban didn't help


Andrew Rothman
September 13, 2004, 11:34 PM
Okay, I just cannot believe this.

The St. Paul Pioneer Press is the second biggest newspaper in the state, and often has better writing than the Star Tribune.

But in this editorial (that is, speaking as the voice of the newspaper), they propose that locking up criminals, not banning guns, is the answer.

They also said, in so many words, we used to think one thing, but facts suggested the opposite, so we've changed our minds.

A newspaper said this!

I almost fell off my chair.

(The bolding is mine - Matt)
Posted on Mon, Sep. 13, 2004

Tougher sentences will deter gun crime

Short of a legislative miracle over the weekend, the Clinton-era assault weapon ban will expire today. While we don't think citizens should be able to possess howitzers or rocket-propelled grenade launchers, we did have some issues with the assault weapon ban. More important, we think harsh and strictly enforced sentencing for anyone who commits a crime with a gun will do more to deter crime than trying to keep guns out of the hands of criminals and law-abiding citizens alike.

The assault weapon ban came at the problem of violent crime from the wrong angle. Sponsor Sen. Dianne Feinstein and her staff merely picked out the most menacing characteristics and decided that if a gun — whether it was a shotgun or an AK-47 — had two of those characteristics, it was banned. In short, it targeted the most scary looking weapons, not the most dangerous or those most frequently used to commit crimes.

It's also important to note that, according to the Justice Department, assault weapons were used in about 3 percent of shooting crimes prior to the ban and those statistics are unchanged today. When the ban seemed to be responsible for a drop in crimes committed with assault weapons in its first year, we urged Congress not to repeal the ban as it was then considering and to give it time. But the Justice Department's longer-term gun crime statistics show us that the ban had little or no effect.

Rather than debate whether gun bans deter crime, we think legislative efforts would be better spent looking at sentencing guidelines. According to the Minnesota Sentencing Guidelines Commission, which collects data from county attorneys general, 94.4 percent of the 808 criminals convicted of a gun crime did jail time in 2002, the latest year for which statistics are available. Not bad, but there's a disturbing unknown just below the surface of those statistics.

Broken down further, 479 criminals, or 59.3 percent, of the 808 were sentenced to state prison. The remaining 35.1 percent, or 284, served time locally. For a variety of reasons — length of incarceration awaiting trial among them — it's uncertain whether they actually served any time at all following their conviction or merely received probation.

This anomaly between state and local incarceration is further brought out in the statistics for time served. According to the same report, the average sentence for those criminals sentenced to state prison was 76 months. For those sentenced to serve time locally it was only 213 days.

There's something wrong here. According to the current Minnesota law, first-time offenders are required to receive a minimum three-year sentence for any crime committed with a gun. Felons are supposed to serve a minimum five-year sentence. The state penitentiary incarceration statistics seem to jibe, but the local incarceration lengths don't.

More disturbing yet, as the accompanying chart shows, is data that shows gun crimes are up, while incarceration is down. We doubt this is a coincidence. We understand that prosecutions and sentencing are complicated endeavors, but we also think it's fair to ask why the incarceration rate for anyone convicted of a gun crime isn't 100 percent.

This would be a good topic for the Legislature to take up when it returns. State Sen. Pat Pariseau, R-Farmington, says there are plenty of gun laws on the books, but "they're simply not enforced." According to Pariseau, a gun charge is the first bargaining chip on the table, primarily because there are strict sentencing guidelines.

Jim Backstrom, the Dakota County attorney, said that's not true. "My prosecutors are reluctant to bargain away a gun offense," he said.

Clearly the two sides differ. But the statistics don't lie. There's something amiss in the prosecution of gun crimes. And the citizens of Minnesota should demand an answer.

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September 14, 2004, 12:14 AM
yeah, couldn't believe it myself.............

September 14, 2004, 02:46 PM

Amazing. Simply Amazing.

September 14, 2004, 03:09 PM
There's something in the water over in St. Paul.

They even had their smoking ban vetoed, though I suspect that will only be a matter of time.

I have problems with the Pioneer press at times, but they are a whole world better than the red star.


Ukraine Train
September 14, 2004, 03:18 PM
Good article but what worries me is they allude to the fact that the guns used in most crimes weren't the ones being banned. These are, of course, handguns and I'm concerned that the next proposed ban will target these.

September 14, 2004, 03:24 PM
Man bites dog!

September 14, 2004, 04:00 PM
Glasnost finally takes hold at the Pioneer Press?


Standing Wolf
September 14, 2004, 04:16 PM
People in Minnesota's so-called "news" media are actually blaming criminals for violent crime? There may be hope yet!

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