The Root of DC’s Gun Problem?

IMG00035, originally uploaded by Prince of Petworth.

Ok maybe I’m obsessing a bit now but I think Odentex’s comment yesterday from the Ombudsman’s post is worth exploring:

The problem in DC is that these disputes get settled with guns partly because having a gun in DC will get you no more than a slap on the wrist. We can moan on and on about MPD (and I’m not saying we shouldn’t, they don’t seem to give a flip about patrolling this neighborhood), but until the price of pool goes up with regards to carrying a firearm in this city, a lot of disputes that would otherwise result in a bunch of yelling, or an occasional beating, will instead result in stray bullets coming into peoples houses.

With the Heller Supreme Court case in the news a few months back there was a lot of lamentation about how this would effect the “ban” and no little editorializing in the WaPo about the end of the world, as if it matters a jot to the person carrying an illegal gun in DC what the law is when they know they’ll never spend a day in jail if caught with a gun. The city could go a long way towards curtailing this by simply instituting reasonable sentences for gun possession.

Currently, a 1st time offense is considered a misdemeanor petty offense with a possible maximum punishment of 12 months in jail, but nearly all first offenders go free with time served (a day or two) or probation. This is similar to a lot of states, and frankly, I don’t have too much trouble with the first offender (assuming they are really a first offender) getting probation. Virginia, that bastion of strict gun control, has a similar punishment for first offenders. What I would like to see is probation terms handed with violators of probation for gun offenses facing a mandatory 90 days in DC jail if they screw up. It sends a signal, but it also acknowledges that everyone gets one chance to shape up.

Where the DC code, and DC government from Fenty on down, has failed the citizens of DC in a deadly way is how gun crime for repeat offenders is handled. Or should I say, not handled. The punishment handed out for repeat offenders, people who have been caught with an illegal weapon at least once before, is, according to DC government, on average less than ZERO months in jail.

What? “How can that be?” you’re saying? I’m not entirely sure myself, but if you look at page 6 of the 2006 Report of the DC Sentencing Commission (their ’07 report is missing, and their ’08 report is suspiciously void of any data on sentences), you’ll see in Figure 2-2 that not only do felony gun offenders get below “0” months in prison, the sentences gun offenders receive are lower that “property” crimes and drug offenses.

So, between 200-300 serious gun offenders ostensibly get probationary sentences or time served for repeat felony instances of illegally carrying guns. There is no enhancement for having your third or subsequent felony possession, and even if the judge has a particularly bad hair day the maximum allowed by statute is 5 years. However, even though DC government is careful not to produce the raw data on these sentences, we can see that if the average is below zero months in prison, and there are usually less than 300 cases, there isn’t anyone (or hardly anyone) getting the max.

This is pathetic situation. There needs to be a mandatory sentence for repeat gun offenders in this city. 2nd offense should merit a minimum of 1 year in prison. This would make an impact. Time served and a revolving door don’t.

I would like to go to this meeting on Thursday, but I probably cannot attend. So, I hope that someone might mention this to the city fathers when they start wringing their hands about how they can’t do nothin’ about this.

Again, in Virginia, where carrying a gun is almost as important as loving Baby Jesus, second offenders get 1-5, and a third offense will get you up to ten. When Virginia has tougher gun laws than you, you know that you are fucked.

51 Comment

  • I wrote to several councilmembers about this issue after reading Odentex’s really detailed comments. Uncharacteristically none responded. PoP, I know you owe me nothing, but how about asking the council to respond to these numbers?

  • Prince Of Petworth

    I plan on meeting with some councilmembers in December and I’ll most certainly bring this issue up.

  • Neener – if they followed Odentex’s recommendation, all thier voters would be in jail!

  • Yes, our gun laws are pathetic. Odentex is right on the money with this issue and I, too, wish I could attend this meeting tonight. Unfortunately I work evenings. However, I have been inspired to write to Councilmember Bowser and Mayor Fenty on this issue and hope more of us do the same!

  • 2008 and we are still focusing on some inanimate object. If you can not completely and effectively ban and control them, then you are better off regulating them. Unfortunately, regulation allows some people to slip through the cracks. Those are the people that should be punished severely. If someone is caught shaving serial numbers or straw purchases or breaking in someone’s home/car stealing a gun, he should get prison time.

    As it stands now, a person with an unregistered shotgun in his home is treated the same was as a guy walking down the street with a handgun in his pocket. I think that there is a difference.

    The better issue is a) why are people carrying guns and b) so willing to use them. I think the bulk of this comes from the drug trade. If you are in a cash business, you need some sort of security. Clubs have it. Bars have it. Banks have it. CVS has it.

    Drug dealers do not. They do not do money drops ala Burger King or CVS. In fact, they can not even report theft or robberies. You can not begin to estimate the number of unreported drug robberies and thefts. That dictates that if you are going to sell drugs, you had better prepare yourself for the worst that your enemy has to bear. That precludes a knife or brass knuckles.

    If you can’t stop it and/or unwilling to regulate the drug war, then prepare for violence to continue in our community for the rest of our lives.

  • Again, I point out this article of this topic, first revealed on this blog somewhere:

    According to this is largely Phil Mendelsons fault. I’d blame the entire council of course. And point out that they get to drive everywhere and thus don’t walk streets block by block, or ride the bus, which is where the danger is.

  • Nate, your points are pointless. While the drug war is a farce, its also a bit of a third rail issue. There’s so much spending and corruption tied into it that it will likely continue for decades. While you can exhaust yourself protesting it, it will not change. We are behind enemy lines in the war on drugs, and the war on poverty, and probably some other wars we’ve all forgotten about (illiteracy?). So, we’re forced to make do with what we can, and in this case we need to accept the drug war but not lose utter effectiveness against the violence it engenders. I know, for example, that drugs have been bought on a great many occasions, for years, weed specifically, from nice upstanding folks in the comfort of their posh homes, without shooting or frequenting gun toting street dealers. So, it is possible to have one without the other!!! 😉

  • We need to concentrate on the problem we want to try and solve. The same DC Sentencing Commission study, and national statistics, show that while sentence length (and mandatory minimums) for drug related crime have gone through the stratosphere, and while other hot button crimes like possession of child porn now regularly command 5-7 years in federal prison, gun crime (at the local level) is completely ignored.

    What do we want to do?

    At the heart of it we want the guns off the streets as much as possible. So we need to concentrate our efforts there. I know that the city has put a lot of $$ and time into reaching out to youthful offenders, using the carrot to get guns off the streets and out of their hands — now maybe it’s time for a bit of the stick.

    Also, there is a huge disparity between the defendant that gets charged in Superior Court (local DC) vs. the defendant that gets charged for substantially the same offense in Federal Court in DC. The reasons why and how a defendant gets charged federally are somewhat obscure, but basically it boils down the determination of Assistant US Atty’s who are employees of the Justice Department and work for the appointed US Atty for DC, and thus have no obligation to the citizens of the city (and it often shows). Assuming no record and no aggravating factors, an individual charged federally for the illegal possession of a firearm faces a sentence of 10-16 months in federal prison under the sentencing guidelines. Yet the same defendant, charged with a 2nd offense in DC, likely faces time served or probation. Besides being unfair to the 99% of the city not illegally packing heat, the DC law is disproportionate and unfair to the random defendant that happens to get charged federally for the LESSER offense of first time possession. Insanity.

    When I suggest a year for second offenders I recognize that the politicians in this city are too lily-livered to actually do something dramatic that might make an impact. They’d rather let the occasional innocent child be shot by a stray bullet. But it’d be nice to see the politicians downtown consider the 99% of DC residents that follow the law once an a while rather than worry about offending multiple felons.

    A word on mandatory minimums. Mandatory minimums can be effective, but have, in some people’s opinions, been abused by Congress. For example, the mandatory minimum penalties for the possession of crack cocaine are thought by many to be draconian and serve little purpose (other than political). The possession of 5g of crack (without a gun) will get you a mandatory 5 years in federal prison (that’s a real 5 years too as there is no longer any parole in the federal system). Sentencing statistics show that only about 27% of alll crack defendants (including those with much more than 5g) possessed guns or had access to guns (i.e. guns in the car or in the house) when arrested. The vast majority of these guys are really small time, 5g is about the same amount as a few sugar packets, yet we give them 5 yrs without a second thought. Even so, there is little denying the impact mandatory minimums have had since the early ’90’s on the drug trade, particularly crack.

    I tend to believe that mandatory minimums in some cases are not helpful (child porn possession springs to mind), or too high (as with crack). But when we are talking about the use and repeated possession of a dangerous weapon that, all too often, has led to the slaughter of children and other innocent bystanders, I think there ought to be little sympathy, and little doubt, that a message has to be sent to the casual gun felon in this city that you will be locked up for certain if you carry here.

    However I have little faith that Fenty, Bowser and the like care a whit about protecting innocent people when it means getting tough on crime. They would rather have a few irate, law-abiding citizens rail at them a week or two after a particular event then actually face the music on stiffening the laws. Also, they like to claim that there is little to be done and they rely on the citizen’s ignorance about the law and how it is applied downtown. I don’t want to be paranoid, but I think it is interesting that after the 2006 report the DC Sentencing Commission now does not produce such yearly data on sentences (and produced precious little to begin with compared to the federal system). They don’t want a light shined on the sentences being doled out for gun crime in this city because it doesn’t look good. It appears that gun crime in the neighborhoods of DC is not taken very seriously at all.

    Despite Fenty and company’s hope that this will all remain obscure, this lack of accountability for repeat gun offenders is a concrete example of where DC’s laws and DC’s leaders have failed the city. There can be no doubt that when Virginia and Maryland (which I just found out today has a mandatory 90 days for 2nd offense possession of weapon) are actually *tougher* on gun crime that DC has lost the script completely.

    And irony of ironies: what has Fenty and his cronies spent $$ and time on regarding guns in the last year?

    The oh-so-successful gun ban. That’s right. He’s been lording it over the 99% of the population that actually pays attention to what the law is while the other 1% have a good laugh and continue to have shootouts in our streets.


  • Anonymous,

    While true we have lost the war on literacy and poverty, the cost of the war on drugs is not sensible. There is merit in reducing poverty and illiteracy at almost any cost. The same can not be said for drugs.

    I am curious to know how you feel we can be more effective against the violence that surrounds the drug trade.

    I have seen a lot of nonviolent people lose their lives to drugs. Either prison or murdered. Or both. In fact, most murders in every big city are due to drugs. Robberies. Thefts. Turf conflict. 6th & O vs 7th & O is nothing more than a turf war over drug dealing.

    In my 33 years, the bulk of drug dealers I have known are nonviolent. Most just want to make money selling drugs and appear cool to women and their friends. But violence and drugs go hand in hand. However, a drug dealer resistant to inflicting pain ends up out of business or a dead drug dealer in short order. And that is what is playing out in our streets.

    We can talk of enhancing the penalties forever. We can talk of education and building more rec centers. We can talk of cracking down on guns. But as long as drugs are illegal, there will be an underclass that sees drugs as a way to the finer things in life. And they will go to no end to protect themselves.

  • Nate: While there is no doubt that drugs and guns are correlated, they are not as highly correlated as you suggest. I noted above that of all convicted crack defendants only 27% had a firearm associated with their crime (on their person, in the car, in the house or apartment). What’s even more interesting is that for powder cocaine that number drops to 14%, 9% for heroin (remember to pronounce it “hair-roin” in DC), 8% in for marijuwannas, and 22% for methamphetamine. Besides telling us there is a high correlation between hillbillies and crackheads lovin’ them some guns, this also reveals that a whopping 17% of all drug defendants had guns.

    Not exactly the job necessity that you supposed, huh?

    [for those data nerds interested, this comes from the USSC Sourcebook, found, along with a lot of interesting stuff, @]

  • I should remind Nate that when illegal drugs were barely an issue, the mafia made money in numbers, prostitution, after hours liquor clubs, speakeasies, floating card and crap games and simple enforcement. The drug laws have almost no relation to organized crime. Look at the “wild west” examples of rampant crime and gun use. Drug use and drug sales didn’t matter.

    dang it, after I cut and pasted this Odentex wrote a much better story saying the same thing.

    This legalize drugs and the violence goes away thing is so much hoakum

  • Odentex,
    Most defendants in DC are drug users. That explains why the majority may not have guns. Usually only the dealers have guns. I remember going to a murder trial a while back. Princess Hansen, 15 y/o. The girl was killed because she was a victim to a drug deal gone bad. While technically this was not a drug related murder, in reality drugs were at the center of her death.

    Since you listed your stats, why do you think that most crack arrests involve guns? Crack is the one drug that is typically sold exclusively in inner cities. Street corners. Apartment hallways. Also, your stats do not account for robberies and murders where no drugs were seized by the MPD.

    Let me give you a recent example. A couple of weeks ago, two young men were the victims of a home invasion in NW. I can’t remember if they were murdered or not. But why would six men enter someone’s home other than for drugs? Or the money associated.

    Believe me this happens all the time. This was not listed as a drug related crime by MPD. But surely drugs are written all over it. This will not show up in the 22% of USSC’s stats because no drugs were seized.

  • Neener,
    Why do you think noone sells alcohol or cigarettes (except NYC) on the street? Why do we hear of so few cigarette or alcohol (non driving) murders?
    There was a lot of crime related to alcohol during prohibition. Prostitution should not even be a crime. You mentioned numbers running. But look at how little violence there is now since the gov’t runs the numbers for us (Lotto).

    Same for floating card and crap games. The gov’t regulates it now and there is little violence associated.

  • Regardless Nate, those are failures in national policy, and nothing we can do locally. California can’t even quite get away with such a thing as legalizing possession of weed. So, while it pays to be aware of the fallacies of the drug war, our city governments’ hands are tied on this issue. You need to forward your complaints to President Obama, or the White House Office of National Drug Control Policy. Or join NORML or one of the other groups and quit harping on the issue here. Please. You might as well ask for universal harmony and ponies for all. The first edict of effective policy is realism. Etc.

  • When the D.C. gun laws were overturned there were many people saying that there would be a huge spike in crime associated with legal gun ownership. I’m still waiting for that crime wave to materialize. The guns used in DC crimes are obtained illegally. Do people really think that criminals go through legal channels to obtain their weapons?

    The city needs to implement must stricter sentences for all sorts of violations. The city is basically lawless. Police don’t care about the situation at all. More reason than ever to move to Bethesda (if you can afford it!)

  • Anonymous,
    I guess wrapped inside this cynic is an optimist at heart. For some reason I hope that there is a collective groundswell to do something about this.

    It pains me to have seen so many young men murdered or imprisoned year after year. Friends. More friends. And friends of friends.

    I have been so close to it over the years that I have become intimately aware of the workings of the drug trade. I have seen some of my poor tenants succumb to allowing “boyfriends” sell drugs from their apartment. That type of economic lure is too difficult for poor single mothers to overlook. I’ll admit that at times it consumes me.

    I have sat on my porch and watched MPD arrest people for possession (not even smoking) a joint as if that makes our community safer. Yet, on my job, i help get more money sent to communities to “fight this scourge”. Imagine the conflict.

  • I like all the back and forth on the drug issue, but the bottom line is that if you get picked up for packing heat a second time, absent aggrevating circumtstances, I think defendants should get at least a year, maybe more.

    Of course that brings us to the recidivism issue. Nearly all of these thugs will back slide when they get out of the big house. I why shouldn’t they everyperson they have come in contact with from the day they came into the world has failed them. What to they have to look forward to? Having a hip hop album and getting paid? Playing in the NBA and getting paid?

    It is also highly likely that they will impregnate a 14 to 16 year old in the process, then the cycle starts anew.

    Well I am throughly depressed now.

  • Steve,
    NYC has very strict penalties on guns. Read the nydailynews today. A guy is on trial for shooting a cop to death. A year in jail for you and me might seem severe. But I know people that have done a couple years and that has not necessarily turned them around.

  • Nate: The USSC numbers do not represent “users”. They represent federal felonies for trafficking only since the possession of crack (or any other narcotic) is a misdemeanor under federal law and misdemeanors are not included in USSC data. Further, unless someone is arrested on a federal installation, there are virtually zero prosecutions by the feds for drug possession anyway. DC Superior court may prosecute a million users and give them 100 years each, I don’t know… and thanks to the lack of data available from DC, neither can anyone else.

    And while your anecdotes are compelling and sad tales of what crime can do to innocent people, I’m sorry all I have in defense are the facts.

    There were just a little over 5200 crack sentences in federal court last year, all dealers, all felons. 79% of these defendants had a prior record, 27% had a “weapon involved” in their crime, 95% plead guilty, 18% were charged for trafficking less than 5g (no mandatory minimum), 32% were charged with 5g-50g (a 5yr mandatory), and 49% had over 50g (10yr mandatory). With nearly half of these defendants found culpable for >50g, while there are a lot of problems with the US Gov’t’s crack cocaine policy (the *average* sentence is 129 months), it’s hard to argue that there aren’t a lot of people doing “business”, sometimes big business, without the aid of firearms.

    While I understand that you have strong feelings about the correlation here, the numbers just don’t support the idea. You under the impression drug-dealing cannot take place without guns, which might surprise a lot of drug dealers (and police) in Europe.

    That all said, the better argument to end the drug war (as with any war) is the cost. But good luck prying those dollars from DEA agents.

  • Great Thread. Smart people discussing actual problems!

    I’m not totally against mandatory minimums, but there is always a replacement in the pipeline for every gun toting crack dealer that is incarcerated. The faces change, but the game stays the same.

    So even if you “specifically incapacitate” dealer A via mandatory minimum, Dealer B shows up on the corner very much willing to settle trade disputes with iron.

    And even if legalization would take the profit motive out of drug dealing, that doesn’t address the core problem. As Ras Kass said, he’s against legalization because it will take the profit off the street.

    The Drug Dealer’s demographic in DC is idle. Much of the demographic is not engaged/under engaged in the community nor the local economy.

    In his recent HBO Special, Chris Rock discussed the difference between a job and a career. He said that he worked as a dish washer at Red Lobster. He didn’t have a diploma. He didn’t have a GED. He wasn’t in school, or waiting to ship overseas with the military.

    Scraping shrimp off of plates was his life. That describes much of DC, the not bright or young things.

    Of course there are more than just minimum wage dead end jobs here.
    Of course people need to go to school and apply themselves.

    But as a community we have to decide what we’re going to do with people who are deeply disenfranchised.

  • It saddens me when good points, as those made about the well-made and prima facia problems with the DC sentencing (which I will assume to be true, although I cannot attest to their accuracy from first-hand experience) get lost when other issues get thrown into the argument. Perhaps if the community could focus on working to address a single issue on which there is general consensus, some public safety improvement could be made.

    People differ on what drugs should be legal. Let’s agree to disagree for the moment and take unite to make a change upon which we all agree. I doubt that anyone would defend the points made about DC’s outrageous and ineffective sentencing guidelines and practices in gun-crime. Therefore, can we focus on pressuring our representatives to make improvements in this arena and hopefully, enact one measure of change that could make our streets safer?

  • to follow up with AFL, I am really disheartened when I am around the guys on the corner. Here are some things to keep in mind:
    1. The guys on the corner have MANY if not COUNTLESS employment opportunities. I know one guy’s family well. His brother is in the US Marine Corps and, while he had to do a tour of Iraq and he isn’t a model marine, the guy has a career and gets to wear the bulldog shirt. The guy has two female cousins and one drives a metrobus while the other one dresses smartly. His father had a bad job at Best Buy, but also bragged about his employee discount and bought the kids a DJ Mixer and turntables. I don’t know if he dropped out of school or what, think he probably did, but he’s the only one in his family who doesn’t have a regular job. This guy hangs around the schools, playgrounds, parks and churches. The last thing he needs is a community center to sell drugs at. He doesn’t need yet another opportunity, his whole family has regular jobs due to opportunity.
    2. He makes excuses about everything, including that Obama doesn’t represent him and why he wouldn’t vote for him, etc. He makes every nihilistic choice he can, even as people in his own family pull themselves up. His attitude has nothing to do with his prospects- his prospects are only limited by his attitude.
    3. Sometimes there isn’t anyone left in line. Right now the main guy on our block is also the youngest guy still on our block. Everyone else in his crew seems to have Maryland plates. In July he disappeared for a few weeks (in Miami?) and his friends were gone. I am sure that my block in on the verge of going 100% non-criminal once he is gone.

  • Geezer: Exactly the problem.

    I recommend to everyone read the Washingtonian article Anon posted above:

    It points out that this has come up before (including Fenty supporting the notion on stiffer penalties), but that it died in legislative limbo. While one take-away from this is that Phil Mendelson a jackass who lives in Upper Caucasia and could give two shits about the east side of the park, he’s only one councilmen. It seems that once they all got elected they lost any enthusiasm for trying to stiffen penalties for gun crime. Laying all on Phil is a little silly.

    The key here, if anyone is of a mind to do anything, is to keep it simple. Ranting about the drug war is going NOWHERE. Give it a rest. However, if the citizens of this city are clear with their leaders that there needs to be a stiffer penalty for repeat gun offenders, specifically a mandatory term of incarceration, and that we’ll be watching to see what they do about it after they promise to do something, then we might get somewhere.

    I am sympathetic to the notion that “lockin’ ’em up and throwing away the key” doesn’t solve every problem and has not always served the American public or the interests of justice. But similarly, anyone who has worked in the criminal justice system also knows that there is a calculus that defendants engage in when they are contemplating alternatives — both before and afterwards. While a mandatory minimum will not solve the issue of gun crime in DC it will effect the calculus of some people — and that’ll more than make the change worthwhile.

    People have to be focused though, the tortured history of these proposals set out in the Washingtonian article shows that a lack of focus and a lack of accountability on the part of citizens demanding change can be derailed rather easily in the face of DC government sloth.

    I am gonna try and get to the meeting tonight… but I dunno if I can.

  • Odentex,
    Just because a guy does not have a weapon when he was busted does not mean that he does not have one. I can guarantee you that if you plan on selling drugs in an inner city, you better make people think you can defend yourself. For once your enemies find out you are vulnerable, your dealing days will be over.

    In the #’s you present, 32% of the people had less than 50g. I am going to tell you a story about crack cocaine. I knew someone busted for crack once. He had one bag. The police found the bag and the rock immediately crumbled. The police commented, and I quote, “I am basically taking this guy to jail for baking soda.” The point of the story is that 50g of crack is not a lot. When you consider the actual illegal substance, cocaine, by the time crack is on the street it is nothing more than baking soda.

    The fact that the USSC even keeps track of arrests/convictions in amounts as low as 50g is telling. That is less than 2oz’s! And less than $2K. 50g is essentially a dusting of cocaine when no telling how many kilos are consumed daily. You will never solve the problem by even wasting time catching these people.

    Next time you read the a drug bust alert on 4D’s website, ask the police how much drugs they found? It won’t be much. But I guarantee you that there will usually be a gun if it involved a raid on someone’s home.

    BTW, you can not compare Europe’s drug culture to here. Gun laws are different. Access to guns is different. Penalties are different. Gun culture is different. I may be wrong, but in London it is very difficult to get guns.

  • Perhaps printing copies of the Washingtonian article to distribute at the meeting tonight might be a good idea. Although it’s a long read, it’s “on the record” from a recognized press source.

    One more thought about staying on point – the more issues we throw our politcos, the more they will use the distraction as political cover for doing nothing. Maintaining FOCUS is the only way to hold their feet to the fire.

    Let’s hope the neighborhood turns out in force tonight.

  • Nate – I don’t think time in jail solves the recidivisim issue. Sad to say, most of these guys just need to stay there. The longer the better. Call me a pessimist, but I don’t think they will ever be productive members of society and I would gladly pay taxes for their up keep, rather than having them roam the streets harming others and multiplying.

  • Odentex – I think there are some pretty nice islands way out in the Aleutians that would make fine penal colonies.

  • I refuse to go to the meeting tonight. Its lip service, public relations, and complete bullshit. We’ve had dozens of these meetings in my years here, all which lead no where. And, the timing assumes I work a 9 – 5 job, when actually I work a 9 – 9 job. The idea that community meetings will reveal anything groundbreaking is just silly, as is the idea that the illegal activity in much of Georgia Ave area is clandestine. You’ll all be told the complex legal reasons why DC can’t enforce its laws, and why we can’t enforce the same laws as Virginia and Maryland due to a crackheaded interpretation of the constitution. The best thing someone can do at these meetings is shoot em up. If you go and listen you’re just part of the complacent herd, in my opinion. Bowser will check a box in her planner that says ‘discuss crime concerns with residents’ and then will move on, nothing will be done. We need to identify and support candidates with any version of the phrase ‘address crime’ in their platforms. I don’t think any of the current herd say anything of the sort. Throw them bums out!!!

  • Steve,

    Unfortunately, I have to agree with you. I just don’t see how you can take these guys off the streets. There aren’t enough peaceaholics, social workers, cops…. to do it. Even if there were how many of these guys are willing to change? Try to tell any of them not to hang out at the street corner and do something useful with his life.

    To keep them off the streets they need a job, to get a job they need education, to get education they need to go to school which they don’t want to but even if they did the schools they could go to are just as bad as the streets.

    I honestly just don’t see a way out of this for them unless they really want to.

  • Thor – I am usually a pretty positive guy, who like to see the best in people. With these kids, I see nothing, just nothing. Like I said before, it is depressing. Could you imagine ever threatening a teacher – read about that the other day. Same people.

  • Steve: the goal would be deterring those that can be deterred by the thought of prison. For people, and there is some % out there, that don’t care about prison it doesn’t matter what the penalties are so much. Right now there is only deterrence for carrying a gun is for people that want to avoid a record… i.e. not much deterrence at all.

    It’s not an accident that people engaging in “business” in quantity and in jurisdictions where drug crimes typically go federal do not have weapons 80% of the time. They know the law, and they know that they’ll get a consecutive mandatory 5 yrs added on to any drug sentence if they catch a gun charge.

    Here’s what I don’t understand about Mendelson and those that oppose serious sentences for repeat gun offenders — what is their argument against it? Are they worried about offending gun felons? I mean, what is their problem? Sure you can say that it’s impossible prove absolutely that stiffer penalties deter certain crimes (I think that premise is wrong, BTW), but even as a purely retributive measure, how in the world can the elected officials of this city support a revolving door for gun crime when young men are being shot down left and right on the city’s streets. If nothing else this shows a serious lack of concern for those young men, not to mention everyone else who has to live in their shooting range.

  • Steve,
    I so agree with you. A couple of my friends and I were talking recently. It is going to take locking up at least 1MM more men before anything changes. And that is assuming that noone recognizes the vacuum and takes their position.

    Sadly, we could lock up every bad guy and throw away the key. But as long as there exists the lure to make easy money, nothing seems to change.

    I have seen the dope boyz on my block change over three times now. Each time, they get younger, less approachable, and more violent. And their parents are younger and more accepting of the money they are making. It is a cycle that will never end.

  • Don’t forget, in DC felons can vote. Thus they are a constituency.

  • Odentex,
    You have to get it out your head that you can arrest your way out the problem. No matter how punitive the punishment.

    People engage in all types of risky behavior. Smoking cigs. Drinking. Having unprotected sex. You can not arrest away the risk seeking in some people. You can only take away the incentive.

  • Odentex – I am all for second chances, lord konws I did stupid stuff when I was a kid, and I had two parents who took an interest in me. But these kids are clearly playing the system. Sometimes it really feels like the Lord of the Flies out there. Maybe you are right, tougher sentences might deter some on the second time around (give the first timers a break for, been teenagers). I don’t even know it’s all associated with Drugs…maybe it is. The DC “system” clearly fails just about everyone who enters it, especially youth. I am sure Colby King must be weary writing every Saturday about the juvie system. It is a total joke. It is run by people who don’t care, for people who don’t care.

    Like I said, round em up and dump them on Agattu Island and forget about them.

  • Odentex, you’re dropping some serious knowledge here — thank you for this. It’s a lot of food for thought.

    Repeating what someone said above, if we don’t let ourselves get distracted with other issues (the drug war, how all kids need to be locked up etc) and focus on ONE THING — “increase penalties for second-time gun crime offenders” — we can possibly effect positive change.

  • Nate: Smoking cigarettes doesn’t usually kill people a block away.

    There is a reason that drug offenders in areas like the eastern district of Virginia don’t carry guns 80% of the time, and it has everything to do with “risk”. They know the penalties just as those who carry guns casually in DC know the risks here — there are none. Talk about an “incentive” to break the law!!

    You can rail on and on about those darn kids and how the world is going to hell in a handbasket, but some people would like to see some serious thought put into realistic solutions such as police patrolling instead of police “emergencies” and actual penalties for gun crime rather than a revolving door. No matter how hard and empty-eyed these fellas on the corner may think they are, and no matter how much you mythologize them, they aren’t any worse then a group of housing-block neds from the east of Glasgow, Scotland. Scotland has one of the highest rates of drug abuse and assault in the western world, but very few killings. Primarily because the wee bastards can’t get guns.

    Nobody is going to stop all the guns from coming into DC by increasing the carry penalties, or FINALLY bringing mandatory minimums to the District, but the stats show that when mand mins come in, gun possession related to drug crime drops. Those are the facts despite what you might believe.

    Marion Berry, an authority on DC crime if there ever was one, is absolutely right (as quoted in that Washingtonian article). If the city was really serious about putting an end to this killing they’d make gun possession punishable by a 10 year mandatory minimum. That will never happen, but he is 100% correct and the stats nationwide back him up.

    As a side note on legalization, while the “prohibition” argument has an elegant lazy logic to it, it is not a perfect comparison to the drug trade. For one thing, prohibition’s consumer base was vastly different in size and composition to the consumer base of illicit drugs most associated with street level violence. There is no guarantee that “legalizing” all drugs will remove the criminal element from street level distribution, all it will do for sure is divert the big $$ on the transportation end of things to different pockets. It’ll shuffle dollars while associated crimes, which you yourself have mentioned, such as theft, burglary, assault, and worse will continue, presumably, at the same or greater pace depending on the increase in use of certain illicit drugs. While I’m no fan of the “drug war” and the wastefulness of spending it represents, there is no magic solution by making all drugs legal, and almost all legalization arguments include a continuation of penalties for drug sales — so how, exactly, does that move us forward? You say there would be no incentive, I say unless the government anonomously gave cocaine away for free (like cheese) there will ALWAYS be an incentive and there will ALWAYS be a market made.

    Ultimately it makes sense to reduce the spending on interdiction and focus on treatment instead of incarceration for most addicts. It makes sense to decriminalize marijuana because it is unlike meth, coke, and heroin, and continuing to claim that it is as dangerous only undermines any message about the real harms associated with other narcotics. But this fantastic notion that simply legalizing all drugs will end crime tomorrow is very short sighted in my opinion.

  • Another tidbit I mentioned earlier, and is amplified in the Washingtonian article, although *technically* the US Atty could charge a lot more gun cases in federal court, according to the article there 60-some gun crimes charged that way in DC last year. However, according to the USSC ( there were only 51 cases charged that way in 2007, and only 152 drug cases as well (450 federal cases alltogether).

    For the sake of comparison, my old home of Houston, Texas is in the federal southern district of Texas which stretches down to the Rio Grande but doesn’t have any other major cities other than Houston included: 5,581 cases in 2007.

    You tell me if you think the US Atty for DC is serving this community well by charging only a handful of gun cases while kids get shot down on the street on a daily basis.

  • I’ve been thinking about that post too. That’s been on my mind. very bothersome but explains a lot.

    My friends co-worker was held up at gun point this morning around 9 AM. She was walking down 13th street by the U street metro on her way to work at the WW clinic. Four teenage men walked up to her, surrounded her, put a gun to her neck and took her purse. she was not harmed. It does happen all over the city. If these guys are learning young how easy it is to do this with few consequences, then we all lose.

  • Well, I don’t know about you, but I’m ready to take some action. (After I look at all the links Oden has already posted, of course; I just like to get my info from the source.) So what do we do, how do we make our voices heard? Obviously I’m not at the meeting tonight (my work schedule doesn’t allow it) but that’s not our only outlet.

  • Meeting Report:

    The meeting was well attended, an overflow actually, and I think the overall impression I have is that MPD is really doing the best they can with the hand they’ve been dealt. The vast majority of the meeting was discussion by MPD about the ongoing investigations. Interesting, and I’m glad their on the case, but to me that’s hardly the point.

    It was asked of Lanier if she needed more resources, she said “no”, and proclaimed that MPD is patrolling the alleys and hotspots, we just aren’t seeing them. But I wonder how she would answer if you asked her privately rather than in front of Councilwoman Bowser.

    Bowser didn’t have much to say, and cut the questioning short in deference to the ANC needing to cover other business. I think Bowser needs to make herself available at a meeting where the only topic will be public safety and getting guns off the street. This forum was not really conducive to getting any answers or asking any questions because of the SRO crowd and the lack of time. Maybe that’s what they want. Personally I would like to see Bowser and Fenty attend a meeting solely on the topic of what the city is going to do different (i.e. are they going to treat gun crime seriously or not?).

    There was a some patronizing talk about how the people in the neighborhood need to be more involved and, from Lanier, a whole ridiculous spiel about how we need to take time to go down to every sentencing at superior court to make sure the judges do the right thing. Really? That’s the answer? If only we’d go to a few sentencing hearings that’d somehow convince young men that carrying guns is a bad idea?

    That’s not the problem. The city council can make sure the judges do the right thing with one stroke of their pen. They, and they alone, can assure some minimum floor punishment for repeat dangerous offenders who keep getting caught with guns. If the city council would stand up for the citizens of this city instead of continuing to cow-tow to a small minority of radicals that think any punishment for crime is a form of racism, if the city would implement serious mandatory minimum penalties for repeat offenders, then we might get somewhere.

    You know the old saying, even a broken clock tells the correct time twice a day? As much as Marion Berry is the butt of a lot of jokes in this town, he was right about one thing when he said back in ’05 that if the city was truly serious about putting an end to the killing here they would make any gun possession punishable by a mandatory 10 years. He’s right. 10 years for any possession is extreme, but he’s 100% right. Mandatory minimums are unpopular now, and in some cases for good reason. And while I personally agree that the federal mandatory minimums for crack cocaine trafficking are too severe compared to other punishments, one thing cannot be overlooked: the staggering drop in crack trafficking after their implementation.

    Overall I appreciated what Lanier had to say, she’s clearly on top of things as much as can be, but the police are clearly hampered in this city by the revolving door downtown that puts dangerous offenders back on the streets with little or no consequences.

    A senior police officer was standing near me, I won’t identify him/her because, clearly from Lanier and the Commander’s comments the MPD’s official position is not to run down the ineffective leadership of the council and mayor, but he/she told me that just last week his officers had picked up the same half-dozen characters in 4D, some of whom have pending MURDER cases against them, wandering around our streets with guns.

    This is insanity.

    One of the ANC commissioners also echoed the line that it’s the neighbor’s fault this is all happening. A woman who lives on Buchanan Street was commenting on the various nefarious activities that happen behind her house, and how she can’t even let her two little girls out to play, and the ANC commissioner (sorry, didn’t get his name – he sat on the far left corner of the front) said “do you know who your ANC is?” I mean, really? It’s her fault? She’s come to a meeting after work to ask important questions, dragging along her two small children, and this is his answer? This fellow also suggested later that the real problem wasn’t people running around with guns with no fear of any consequences, no, the real problem is there aren’t enough “job programs” for these offenders. Yep. I’m sure that all three of the shooters from last week just go to bed a-cryin’ every night “if I only had a job.” If someone knows this fellow’s name (Joe Martin, you know who I’m talking about – please tell us) I think the people who live in his area of the ANC should know that he seems to think they are part of the problem since they (like me) don’t know who he is. There may be a good reason no one knows who he is.

    Bottom line, there need to be another meeting that isn’t rushed and isn’t focused on the why’s and how’s of the investigations into these particular crimes from last week. While it’s important for MPD to investigate crimes what we REALLY NEED is to focus on stopping future crimes by making the price too high for gun offenders and (as always) a few non-invisible patrols by MPD might help.

    We need Fenty and Bowser to address what they plan to do moving forward about gun crime in this city. Do they plan to make gun crime a serious priority or do they plan to continue to allow people to die? It’s pretty simple.

  • i believe that was commissioner anthony who seemed so digusted at the thought of the lady not knowing her commissioner. i was pretty disgusted with his response of ‘more job programs, etc’ also, he did not seem to be up to date with a lot of the issues that were on the table last night, but in all fairness, neither did the other commissioners…it seems as though there is a lack of communication across the voting lines.

  • Oden’s Three-Point Plan on Gun Possession:

    1. Remove “operability” requirements. This is something that was mentioned prominently in the Washingtonian article by Harry Jaffe ( Basically, the DC courts have come up with a “unique” interpretation of what possession of a firearm means in DC. See, in the strange universe of DC you don’t actually possess a weapon unless that weapon will actually fire, which in turn means that MPD has to waste a lot of time and resources, and worse yet potentially lose fingerprint evidence that could solve a murder or other serious offense, by test firing every gun the take off of an offender. Pure insanity. Only a judge that lives in AU park or Georgetown behind a large security fence would ever think this comports with a common sense understanding of the word “possession”. The council can fix this easily, and in fact an amendment to fix this issue has already been written, but it’s been lingering in Phil Mendelson’s never-neverland committee for a few years. COUNCIL MUST PASS THIS NOW.

    2. Concentration on first offenders. Although the “lock ’em all up” philosophy expressed by some (including, astonishingly, Marion Berry) is easy to say, the fact remains that not every fellow carrying a weapon in DC deserves to be thrown down a well. The problem we have now is that the system is failing everyone, victims, defendants, and those of us in the cross-fire. A lot of resources have been directed to “drug courts” in DC and elsewhere, where an intensive focus is put on the individual to try to help them avoid further entanglements with the system. These programs are much more intensive than traditional probation regimes and involve the defendant reporting directly to the court on a weekly basis about school, work, and related activities. When a young man (or woman) is found in possession of a pistol in DC, if it is a first offense, currently they are likely to get time served or a “probation.” For those unfamiliar with “probation” it’s not likely as intensive as you may suspect. A defendant may (or may not) have to meet once a month with their probation officer, may, or may not, have to complete some community service hours, pay a fine, or submit to drug testing, but they also could be on “unsupervised” probation which means that unless they get arrested there is no follow-up at all. If someone is carrying a weapon in this city, given that so many young men DIE because of this activity, those caught carrying the first time need to be closely monitored. To me a “Gun Court” makes perfect sense for those first offenders. They can get the assistance they need to break bad habits and bad associations and, perhaps, avoid future problems. It’s certainly better than keeping them in city jail for a few days and them throwing them back on the street.

    3. Consequences for repeat offenders. It is long past time that offenders caught with weapons the 2nd, 3rd, 4th, or 10th time just be given a couple of days in DC jail or a probation. DC council MUST enact serious penalties, including mandatory minimums as were originally suggested by Mayor Williams years ago. Someone convicted of a 2nd offense of gun possession should receive a mandatory year in prison. 3rd and subsequent offenses should merit a mandatory 5 years in prison.

    It’s time for DC government to decide if they want to do something about young men killing each other or whether they’d prefer to continue to ignore the violence and placate people with “all hands” and road blocks, and talk the same tired talk about “job programs”. The only “job program” an offender caught with a pistol for the third time needs is the chain gang.

  • Thank you for that summary Odentex. There was a much sunnier summary posted to the MPD-4D listserv that suggested people write to the Chief Judge of the DC Superior Court “…so that the overall dismay of the residents, elected officials and our police could be conveyed directly to him making him aware of our discontent with the many judge’s decisions.”

    If anyone wants to do such a thing, the info is:

    Lee F. Satterfield, Chief Judge
    Moultrie Courthouse
    500 Indiana Ave., N.W.
    Washington, D.C. 20001

    In regards to the Chief not stating the need for more resources, its clear that at some point in the chain of command, senior officers basically need to get political. They are never going to accuse the Mayor and Council of not giving them enough resources, though we can guess they may say such things in private. Overall, no Chief has ever (in my experience) said anything critical of the administration while they are in command, it would overall make their job harder. A good source of info for the opinions of police tend to come from the officers themselves if you just chat with them, as well as from the DC police union. I can’t seem to find a page for them, but their chairman is Kristopher Baumann and he’s got a fair amount of quotes in the press. I’d guess there’s rather a contention relationship between the union and the command…

  • The lack of stiffer penalties rests squarely on Mendelson’s shoulders. He has held up every piece of legislation in the Council pertaining to this issue and has adamantly opposed stiffer penalties. Hell, even Marion Barry supported minimum mandatory sentencing. This is not about drug dealing. This is about out-of-control young men who know first-hand that there are NO consequences for carrying a gun, firing a gun, and shooting the guy standing on the corner for looking at you funny. The Washingtonian article clearly spells out what the problem is. Mendelson has no understanding of this issue because he doesn’t live East of Rock Creek. He rarely spends any time walking around Petworth and he most certainly would never let his kid walk down Kennedy St where the guys have guns stashed in every direction. It is time for this city to do something about all these young men just running shooting one another and this responsibility lies squarely on the shoulders of our elected officials. This HAS NOTHING to do with the MPD. So, Mendelson and the rest, get off your asses and actually do something! For now, you have lost my vote!

  • I don’t understand why Mr. Anthony wants to berate people who are honestly concerned about what’s going on in their back alleyway and bloviate on about “job programs” like it’s 1975. Aren’t we past those tired and empty slogans?

    And worse yet, not a word, not a syllable about the lives that are lost. I know that a lot of people, including people that have posted here before, subscribe to the notion that the people being killed (young black men) somehow asked for it. Think about that for a second, and then think about people like Mr. Anthony who talk, talk, talk the same old tired crap about “job programs” in the face of shootouts on the corner.

    Community centers, job programs, outreach make a difference for some people, but not much difference to the dead young men laying in a pool of blood on our streets. No job program is going to stop people from carrying guns on the street. Only tough, but fair laws, and law enforcement will make a difference.

    Where is the concern about the lives lost? Not a word about it last night. Shameful.

  • Anon @ 11:39: As Lanier pointed out, unless we are willing to go to each and every gun criminal’s sentencing and submit a formal victim impact statement to the court they don’t have any other solutions to offer. I understand politically why Lanier can’t tell the truth about the council and mayor, but it doesn’t make it any less frustrating. The idea that contacting the judges would make a difference overall is silly, the Superior Court judges are going to continue on handing out the same sentences, and it has nothing to do with them being softies.

    What you have to understand is that the criminal justice system is all about numbers and keeping the docket moving. These judges aren’t a bunch of pinko leftists (many of them are Bush appointees and former prosecutors), but they are a part of a system that has informal rules about what certain cases are “worth” and the defenders and the Asst. US atty’s are also not about to rock the boat either (except in the occasional media reported case). 95-99% of all criminal cases are resolved with a plea and an agreed sentence range. No defendant buys a pig in a poke. If a defendant thinks a judge is going to punish them severely their lawyer threatens to go to trial. This is how local justice runs in most every major city. It’s sad, but true. Rather than citizens be forced to become a court-watching mob to little or no effect, the real answer that was carefully avoided by Bowser last night is for council to change the friggin’ law so that deals cannot be made on repeat offenders. Because unless and until there are mandatory minimum punishments for repeat dangerous offenders in DC there will be no changes.

    If you think writing the judge will make a difference, I have a bridge to sell you.

  • Very good synopsis of the meeting and although everyone’s intentions were good, virtually nothing new was learned, decided or revealed. I understand people are frustrated and want to air their specific concerns, but many of the issues raised by the community (and the police response) did not make me feel confident that things will improve soon. It was all too sadly familiar and nothing that was asked or stated seemed that it would result in a safer walk home from the metro next week. However, I was glad to see a good turnout from both MPD and the community and I did think “court watch” idea floated by Lanier had some merit. The community should have clear notice and understanding when a detainee (either on bond or released from custody) is back on the street. Figuring out how to disseminate this info is the problem…

    I actually don’t think another meeting is needed to get the mayor and council’s attention and response on the present lack of consequence and sentencing for gun crimes. It’s a simple question – “What are you going to do about this isentencing ssue?”

  • I have one place and one place only to vent MY frustrations: PoP!!!! 😉

    Agreed, these never ending parade of meetings are sickening. Every few months we all gather, bend over, and get smoke blown right up our asses. Except me, I skip the meetings as I have a job that I do all by myself. I don’t host community meetings to gather input about doing my job. No sirreee. Must be nice!

  • Geezer: The problem is that they are avoiding the question about the city’s failed gun laws altogether and, instead, head-faking toward the judges. Harassing the judges won’t change a thing. Forcing Bowser, Mendelson (who I just found out was there last night, smart of him not to announce himself), and Fenty to answer that straightforward question is worth another meeting — without all the unnecessary homicide updates. I’m concerned about the Ghosts of Homicide’s Future, not some CSI rundown. I think a meeting that addresses head-on the failure of the council to put teeth into gun laws in this city is important. Then need to answer these questions without having an out. I want to hear why making repeat felons who carry guns do real time is such a bad idea — from their own mouths.

  • I’m sold. Let’s set it up. Thru the ANCs? Mine is Ron Bland…

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