MN Man Given No Jail Time on Gun Charges in March, Allegedly Murders Father of Five on July 4

Who would have thought I’d run across a gun story I wanted to cover on a pro-gun Facebook page?  Though my take on it is quite different from theirs.

A quick background first.

According to the court docket pulled from public records, Joseph Lee Smith was sentenced to 365 days in the Hennepin County Workhouse back in March of this year.  Though the judge ordered no jail time to be served as apparently Smith pled down from a felony gun charge to a misdemeanor charge of carrying a pistol without a permit.

The no jail time is significant because the very same Joseph Lee Smith was just arrested for the shooting death of Cabrie Young, a 28-year-old father of 5, on the Fourth of July.

Had Smith not been allowed to plea down on his prior charge, he most likely would have been in jail, and Cabrie Young might still be alive today.

Now while the Twin Cities Gun Owners & Carry Forum folks painted this story as one where people should go after the judge, it was most likely the prosecutor who agreed to the plea deal that ultimately called for no jail time.  And I’m sure many supporters of their page will view this as, “See, criminals are going to get guns no matter what laws we have in place!”  Which would be an easy argument to make, though foolish.

The biggest problem we face in this country is we have too many guns on our streets.  We have more guns than human beings in this country.  That’s insane.  It’s not a coincidence that the more guns we have in this country, the higher the rate of gun violence we experience.

Another issue is we’re also far too lenient when it comes to those convicted of gun crimes, or even crimes involving violence.  Smith should have never been allowed to plea out of a felony gun charge. Nor should he have been allowed to go free without serving jail time.

Common sense would dictate that anyone who does something that warrants a felony gun charge is most likely someone intent on committing some kind of violent act involving a gun.

Which is exactly what Smith just allegedly did, with a tragic result that has left five children without their father.

At what point will we finally say that we need to start acting harshly against those convicted of crimes involving guns?  If someone is convicted of some kind of gun crime, throw the book at these people.  Keep them off the streets.

If we can’t have a sensible debate on how to properly regulate guns, then we need to at least address the issue of people who commit gun crimes, or violent crimes, being let off with nothing more than a slap on the wrist.

We’re not even properly enforcing and following through on laws that are currently on the books.  Just look at the example in Dallas, Texas, where there’s currently a push to confiscate guns from those convicted of domestic violence.  Something that law already allows for but wasn’t being followed through on, so now the city is trying to pass another law to make it more strictly enforced.

While harsher sentences might not always deter gun violence, they would at least ensure that some of these violent criminals who often seem intent on committing further violence once released would be kept off our streets longer.  Stricter punishments would have kept Joseph Lee Smith from being a free man this past Fourth of July.

It’s one thing gun rights advocates do have right, we need to start fully enforcing the laws we already have.  Where they’re wrong is in their belief that the laws we have are enough.

But it’s not just our need to start enforcing laws we currently have or put more laws on the books, it’s also the fact that we need to start making the punishments for those convicted of gun crimes much more severe.

Because if we can’t have a reasonable debate on how to properly regulate guns, we need to at least ensure that those who do break our laws are properly punished for doing so.


Allen Clifton

Allen Clifton is a native Texan who now lives in the Austin area. He has a degree in Political Science from Sam Houston State University. Allen is a co-founder of Forward Progressives and creator of the popular Right Off A Cliff column and Facebook page. Be sure to follow Allen on Twitter and Facebook, and subscribe to his channel on YouTube as well.

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  • Jeff C

    I think you miss the point when you say “it was most likely the prosecutor who agreed”. You forget that the judge has to approve the plea bargain. Since you are from Texas you don’t understand the frustration with the Hennepin County Criminal justice system or lack thereof. When cops say “why bother, they will be out before I can finish my paperwork” when it comes to stopping crime like drug dealing its a problem from both the prosecutors and the judges. Oh the judges and county attorney (in this case Michael O. Freeman) are elected by a rather Liberal electorate mostly the city of Minneapolis.

    But its nice to see a Liberal/Progressive agree that someone should go to jail and that the fact it didn’t happen caused someone to die. So before you try to convince me we need more laws on the books, just enforce the ones we have, but its obvious in Hennepin, that is not going to happen anytime soon.

  • Guest

    Republicans have been saying enforce the laws we already have for sometime now. Good that a progressive is seeing the light.