When I was in my early 20s, I witnessed a gas station robbery. Three young people pretended to buy milk, at which point they pulled out a gun and told the attendant to give them all the money in the register. Thinking they were kidding, the attendant resisted. A shot rang out and the young people fled to a car waiting nearby.
I called the police and did what I could to comfort the man in what turned out to be the last moments of his life. It didn’t take long for police to find the suspects. That night, a wife lost her husband and her kids lost their father. Three young people will grow old in prison.
It is my understanding that the gun they used was stolen. Proposition 47, passed by voters in November, makes theft of a gun valued at less than $950 “petty” theft, punishable only as a misdemeanor. District attorneys no longer have discretion to charge a felony. Supporters say that makes the system fairer (“It would be a devastating mistake to dismantle Proposition 47,” Viewpoints, March 23).
But the result is if you’re caught with a stolen gun, the punishment you receive is not much worse than running a red light. People steal guns to commit crimes, and those stolen guns make our streets less safe.
I understand the goal of Proposition 47 was to reduce prison overcrowding, but California has been addressing this situation for years and those efforts are working. Realignment and amendments to the “three-strikes” law have reduced the number of inmates.
Lowering punishments for low-level offenders is fair in many cases. People make mistakes. Second chances can change lives.
However, by any measure, Proposition 47’s handgun provision is a mistake. Enabling criminals to steal a firearm and receive a slap on the wrist is sending the wrong message. We cannot give a free pass where deadly weapons are concerned.
Assembly Bill 150 addresses Proposition 47’s most serious flaw by making theft of a firearm grand theft in all cases. Criminals who steal guns will face jail time.
If approved by the Legislature, voters will have the opportunity to approve this amendment in 2016. I have no doubt that the majority of Californians will favor of such a change.
Chelsea Irvine is a policy consultant for the Peace Officers Research Association of California.