The Supreme Court’s 2022 Bruen decision fundamentally changed gun law in the U.S. — and created a bevy of questions for justices to answer in the present term. Among them is one relevant to criminal justice reform advocates: When do you determine if an offense warrants a long prison term?
As The Trace’s Chip Brownlee reported earlier this year, carceral reform advocates have long criticized more punitive gun laws. For them, Bruen came with a silver lining, in that it threw into question many of the policies that have fed the country’s mass incarceration crisis. And on Monday, justices heard arguments challenging part of the Armed Career Criminal Act, a 1984 law that imposes a mandatory 15-year sentence for people found in illegal possession of a firearm, who have at least three previous violent felony or serious drug convictions.
As The New York Times explained, the high court is tasked with defining when a drug offense is “serious” under the law, which is based on the Justice Department’s list of controlled substances. The list is revised from time to time, meaning that people could be charged for a crime that gets downgraded in seriousness, but receive the same sentence for the crime’s earlier designation.
Many criminal justice reformers are not necessarily advocating for more guns or gun ownership, Brownlee reported, but they also don’t want gun laws applied unfairly or used to target Black and brown communities already scarred by the “war on drugs.” “Public defenders have been talking about this for a long time,” Mona Sahaf, of the progressive Vera Institute, told Brownlee in June. “How an expansion of Second Amendment rights might actually help communities that historically have been prevented from carrying firearms, and how this might be a good thing for certain criminal justice goals.”
What to Know Today
Families of Sandy Hook victims offered conspiracy theorist and Infowars host Alex Jones, who has yet to pay them nearly $1.5 billion in legal judgments for calling the 2012 school shooting a hoax, a path out of bankruptcy. In a sharply worded legal filing, attorneys for the families proposed to settle the debt for a minimum of $85 million paid out over 10 years, though it continued to accuse Jones of maintaining an extravagant lifestyle. [Associated Press/Bloomberg]
The Los Angeles Police Department’s Civilian Oversight Commission found that two officers were not justified in shooting and killing a man with schizophrenia in January. It marked the second time in recent weeks that the commission ruled that an officer violated department rules for using force against someone experiencing a mental health crisis. [Los Angeles Times]
In June 2022, a shooting occurred on Diamond Jones’s block in Richton Park, Illinois. Not long after, Jones says, shots were fired into the house when no one was home. Police officials determined that Jones was in violation of the village’s “crime-free” ordinance, and she was given a 10-day notice that the lease on the house she had rented for four years was being terminated. A new lawsuit alleges that the ordinance violated her constitutional rights. [Chicago Sun-Times]
A new long-term analysis of school shootings carried out by adolescents — defined as people age 19 or younger — found that perpetrators typically use low- or moderate-powered firearms, and most frequently use weapons stolen from family members. The study shows that most school shootings are not mass killings, and are usually driven by community violence. [JAMA Pediatrics/CNN]
More than four years after 23 people were killed in a racist mass shooting at an El Paso, Texas, Walmart, victims of the rampage are still struggling to secure financial security and other resources needed to heal. For the Mexican citizens who account for almost half of those injured, recovery has been hampered by the region’s border politics. [The Washington Post]
They Lost Their Kids at Sandy Hook 10 Years Ago. Their Fight Is for Life: The Newtown parents who waded into the gun control debate in 2012 have been a key political force ever since. (December 2022)