Federal prosecutors in Minnesota have recently seen success with an anti-violence strategy of prosecuting criminals for illegal firearms possession and trafficking, instead of more difficult to prove crimes such as murder.
2014 Case a Breakthrough
In 2014 Minnesota officials were dealing with a spike in gang activity which resulted in multiple shootings across the Twin Cities. Prosecutors, noting that it can be far more difficult to secure convictions in murder cases than gun possession and trafficking cases, decided to charge arrested gang members with gun violations instead. The result was 10 guilty pleas and a conviction at trial, far better than prosecutors would have hoped if they had fought for convictions for more serious offenses.
Murders and Violent Crimes Can Be Hard to Prosecute
For years officials have complained that violent crime cases can be difficult to prosecute because witnesses and those with information about the crimes can often be extremely reluctant to come forward and cooperate. Relatively speaking, cases involving illegal gun possession and trafficking are easier to prosecute, a fact succinctly summed up by Assistant U.S. Attorney Jeffrey Paulsen, who said “If we can’t get them for the shootings, let’s get them for the guns they used in the shootings.”
The strategy represents a bold departure from business as usual as officials struggle to find a way to put a dent in the Minneapolis homicide rate, which was at a 10 year high in 2015. According to the Minnesota Bureau of Criminal Apprehension 61 percent of all Minneapolis homicides involved the use of a gun in 2015. Data also indicates that the state is awash in illegal firearms, with the U.S. Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF) reportedly recovering nearly 2,800 guns last year.
Tracking illegal gun purchases can be difficult because criminals often acquire illegal firearms from so-called “straw” purchasers, who are people that can legally obtain guns. The straw purchasers buy guns on behalf of criminals or in order to sell them to criminals. Authorities encourage gun store owners to follow procedures to help identify straw purchasers.
The success of Minnesota’s strategy of going after illegal gun possession and trafficking has reportedly piqued the interest of officials across the nation, particularly in Chicago where nights of multiple gunshot victims is common.