Proposition 47 is Exhibit A for why the initiative process should almost never be used to monkey with the complex criminal justice system.
Consider the case of Matthew Christopher Jackson. He pleaded guilty in Orange Superior Court to a variety of offenses including stealing a gun, a felony at the time.
In 2014, after he had been sentenced to prison, voters approved Proposition 47, a far-reaching and insufficiently considered initiative that reduced penalties for drug possession and many property crimes to misdemeanors.
Championed by San Francisco District Attorney George Gascón and the ACLU, and underwritten by liberals including the George Soros-funded Open Society Policy Center, Proposition 47 says stolen property must be worth more than $950 before prosecutors can charge thieves with a felony.
That can be good. Too many people have been sentenced to prison for relatively minor crimes. But because most handguns are worth less than $950, Jackson petitioned the appellate court seeking to have his sentence reduced.
And last month the California Court of Appeal for the 4th District agreed, ordering the trial court to determine whether the gun Jackson stole is worth less than $950. If it is, the judge should consider cutting Jackson’s sentence.
As so often happens, courts must clean up messes left by initiative promoters. Several appellate courts have decided Proposition 47-related gun theft cases in the thieves’ favor, and the California Supreme Court is weighing no fewer than 10 cases on other issues stemming from the measure’s passage.
Since an initiative created the loophole, voters would need to close it. Unfortunately, that comes at a price.
In 2014, The Sacramento Bee’s editorial board urged a no vote on the measure, and cited critics who warned that the proposal could hurt public safety in cities that struggle with gun violence.
There is a certain irony in the gun theft loophole created by Proposition 47. California lawmakers have approved some of the nation’s most far-reaching gun control measures. We support most of that legislation. But because of sloppiness on the part of Proposition 47’s promoters, criminals who steal handguns – the exact people who should not have guns – face only a misdemeanor. And handguns are by far the most common firearms used in crimes.
Attorney General Kamala Harris, who touts her strong gun control position and whose office summarizes initiatives for the official ballot handbook, failed to mention the gun theft loophole in her summation of Proposition 47. During the campaign, Gascón discounted the gun theft loophole’s significance. Shoplifting a shirt or some food probably should not warrant hard time. But theft of a gun is fundamentally different.
This month, legislators will vote on – and we hope approve – bills by Assembly members Jim Cooper, D-Elk Grove, Melissa Melendez, R-Lake Elsinore, and Adam Gray, D-Merced, to plug the gun theft loophole created by Proposition 47.
Since an initiative created the loophole, voters would need to close it. The bills seek to place a new measure on the November ballot that would do that. The deadline for approving the measures is this month.
Unfortunately, it comes at a price. An analysis by legislative staffers estimates that it costs $55,000 to print each page in the voters’ handbook. A do-over will run four pages, maybe more.
Though it’s not likely, perhaps Gascón and the people who funded the $9.1 million Proposition 47 campaign could help defray the state’s costs.