When gun control laws fail and harsh sentences create externalities.
What's to prevent teens and pre-teens from obtaining and using stolen handguns, plus illegal high capacity magazines?
I live in Illinois, where since January 2023 semi-automatic “assault rifles,” “high capacity” magazines (clips holding more than 15 rounds), and “trigger switches” (which convert handguns into machine guns) can no longer be purchased or distributed. To purchase a handgun in Illinois, you must be 21 and have a valid “Firearm Owner's ID” card, which requires an application and passing a universal background check.
Nonetheless, in my small city of Champaign, Illinois (pop: 90,000), police recently responded to a mid-day shootout near an elementary school between “two distinct groups.” There, they found an 11-year old child with this arsenal of weapons and ammunition in his backpack:
Two stolen Glock handguns (both fully loaded with one bullet in the chamber)
A high capacity magazine capable of holding 50 bullets (i.e. banned in Illinois)
An additional handgun magazine
390 rounds of ammunition
The shooting occurred in broad daylight on streets adjacent to the school and was caught on the school’s surveillance video camera. No one was injured, but children and teachers heard gunshots and ran for cover, fearing a mass shooting. Luckily, it was just a routine shooting near a school, instead of a real school shooting. Incidents like this are unfortunately so routine that they are rarely covered by national media.
In addition to the 11-year old with the backpack, several other young males, including two 15-year-olds, a 16-year old, and an 18-year old were also apprehended and charged in connection with the shooting, which resulted in no injuries, but terrorized people who live, work, and attend school nearby.
This happened in a community that recently spent over $6 million of pandemic stimulus funds on a gun violence reduction plan that funneled money into local non-profits, schools, hospitals, and law enforcement to prevent gun violence from this from happening. Overall, homicides and shootings have fallen in recent years, but the kids still aren’t all right. Who is arming them?
These young boys (men?) ages 11-18 were able to obtain enough firepower and ammunition to quickly kill dozens if not hundreds of people. They had almost 400 rounds on them! What additional laws could we pass to prevent incidents like this from happening? The 2nd Amendment isn’t going anywhere, and while I predict the federal government will ban assault rifles [again] within my lifetime, handguns are here to stay, are used in 12x more mass shootings than ARs, and it’s easy to convert them into machine guns with “glock switches.” They’re also getting into the hands of increasing numbers of very young children.
So far, these charges have been filed in the incident:
11-year-old and 15-year-old: illegal possess of firearms, juvenile court
16-year old and 15-year-old: aggregated discharge of firearm, illegal possession, juvenile court (with application submitted to enhance the 16-year-old’s sentence if he slips up during his juvenile sentence or probation).
18-year old: admitted to firing the gun, was charged with “aggravated discharge of a firearm near a school,” a Class X felony carrying a mandatory prison term of at least six to 30 years upon conviction.
At most, the younger kid/teens will be incarcerated in juvenile detention until they’re 18 (if they don’t just receive probation, which is possible since they have no prior records). No one believes juvenile detention rehabilitates, scares kids straight, or introduces them to a positive peer group, so they’ll likely come out more anti-social and criminally-inclined than before. Which is a strong argument for probation instead of juvenile detention. Our criminal justice actors must pick their poison and deal with the consequences, which in hindsight will have been completely predictable.
Then, it’s hard to say how long of a prison sentence the 18-year-old will (and should) receive.1 If the prosecutor keeps pursuing the X felony, they’ll probably get slightly more than the 6 year minimum, but nowhere near the 30 year maximum. I’d guess 8 years, after which they’ll re-enter society with a felony on their record, a chip on their shoulder, and a very difficult life ahead of them trying to obtain housing & employment. But more than that, the longer this young man is incarcerated, the longer his children will live without their father present. Yes, this 18-year-old already has one baby and another on the way. What will their future hold?
We can debate whether violent, criminal men can be or become good future role models and providers, but either way, this is a vicious cycle spinning out in real time. Incarceration incapacitates, but also renders men in their prime working years incapable of earning a living or providing for their families, both during and after their time in prison, so these cycles repeats. What’s the solution? It’s not stricter gun control laws (we’ve got em). It’s also not more violence interruption programs (we’ve got these, too!). We need earlier interventions that steer kids away from violence before they’re caught backpacks full of guns and ammo, starting with kids like those of the 18-year-old who’s presently facing X felony charges for his reckless, violent actions.
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It occurs to me that not everyone will agree that prison time should follow shooting at people in the street with an illegal firearm (which the shooter admits to doing). Would it make a difference if I told you that the gun he used was connected to a shooting at an apartment complex the next day, where a woman’s apartment was shot up while she was inside with her kids?