10-20-Life Is Not Deterring Gun Crime in Jacksonville

Post Date: June 2, 2014

Earlier this year, the Florida Senate Judiciary Committee voted to remove aggravated assault from the list of felonies that trigger mandatory minimum sentences under our 10-20-Life gun sentencing law. The only stakeholder opposed to the change was the Florida Sheriffs Association. (It isn’t surprising that the FSA would oppose the change. The reform would have considerably reduced the likelihood that otherwise law-abiding gun owners would face lengthy mandatory minimums for mistaken self-defense claims, and the FSA has consistently opposed Second Amendment rights.) 

In any event, to make their case against removing aggravated assault from 10-20-Life, the FSA tapped Jacksonville Sheriff John Rutherford. Among the reasons Sheriff Rutherford offered for the FSA’s opposition to the change was that “weakening” 10-20-Life would reduce that law’s effectiveness in reducing gun crime. (At least, that’s what I think he was trying to say. Watch it for yourself and see if you can figure it out.)

Comes now “Operation Ceasefire” in Sheriff Rutherford’s hometown of Jacksonville. “Operation Ceasefire” is an effort by police to walk around neighborhoods and knock on doors – 18,000 such knocks are planned – in an attempt to “combat the recent uptick in violent crimes and incidents in Northwest Jacksonville.” “Uptick” is probably generous. In fact, the area where “Operation Ceasefire” is targeted has seen a 43 percent increase in aggravated assaults/batteries where a firearm was discharged since last year over the same time period. Homicides are up slightly, too. 33 people were recently shot in one month – including three double shootings in just two days – prompting a spokesperson for the Jacksonville Sheriff’s Office to admit, “I think there’s a gun crime issue in Jacksonville.” 

In Jacksonville” is the key phrase there. Jacksonville is in Duval County, and Duval County is a great test for the claim that 10-20-Life deters gun crime. Duval County is in the Fourth Judicial Circuit, for which Angela Corey is the State Attorney. Angela Corey, as readers of this blog are almost certainly aware, is responsible for prosecuting both Ronald Thompson and Marissa Alexander for aggravated assault. But aside from those cases, Ms. Corey is known generally for hyper-aggressive enforcement of gun crimes under 10-20-Life. (I’m told Ms. Corey’s assistant State Attorneys are forced to justify – to her, in person – any deviations from the mandatory minimum in gun cases. They are not similarly required to justify enforcing the mandatory minimum strictly. I’ll leave it to you to decide what kind of institutional incentives might emerge from that.)

If 10-20-Life creates a deterrent effect on gun crimes, the one place we would expect it to show up is Duval County. But guess what: since 1999, when 10-20-Life was passed, the firearm crime rate in Duval County has gone up.  Yep; check the technique. The Florida Department of Law Enforcement keeps data tracking firearm crimes county by county stretching back to 1996. It also keeps county population data for the same time period. That gives us an easy way to track the firearm crime rate in every county stretching back close to 20 years. 

So what does gun crime in Duval County over that period look like? 

In 1996, the firearm crime rate (per 100,000) in Duval was 430.1. Over the next three years, that firearm crime rate per 100,000 fell: 371.14 in 1997; 327 in 1998. In 1999, the year 10-20-Life was passed, the firearm crime rate in Duval County was 248.1. Over the next several years, the firearm crime rate rose nearly every year. By 2007, at its peak, the firearm crime rate had risen to 482.18. After that, the firearm crime rate fell considerably, dropping to 286.4 in 2010, the year Angela Corey was elected State Attorney. Since Ms. Corey took over, the firearm crime rate dipped slightly in 2011 (to 256.53), then rose slightly in 2012 (257.21), and then rose again in 2013 t0 270.07 firearm crimes per 100,000 residents. With the exception of the past two years, 270.07 is the lowest firearm crime rate Duval has seen since 1999.

But it’s still higher than the firearm crime rate in 1999

The firearm crime rate in Duval fell 42.3% in the three years before 10-20-Life was passed. In the eight years after it passed, Duval’s firearm crime rate increased 94%. It was only last year that the firearm crime rate returned to around 1999 levels. All in all, then, after a 14-year experiment enforcing a harsh mandatory minimum gun sentencing law, Duval County’s firearm crime rate is higher than when the experiment began – and so bad the Sheriff’s office created a task force to combat it

Duval County’s experience with 10-20-Life simply isn’t consistent with Sheriff Rutherford’s claim that 10-20-Life has deterred gun crimes. If 10-20-Life was doing what its proponents claim it’s doing, Duval County – again, the county with the strictest 10-20-Life enforcement in the state – should have seen a clear and consistent drop in the firearm crime rate (at least since 2010 when Ms. Corey took over as State Attorney). Again, that hasn’t happened.

Instead, the data are clear: 10-20-Life has yielded no deterrence of gun crimes in Duval County. It has, of course, resulted in unnecessary suffering in Duval and massive injustice elsewhere. 

Why not just get rid of it?

~ Greg Newburn, FAMM Florida Project Director

UPDATE! Download the PowerPoint slide showing Duval’s firearm crime rate from 1999-2013! Duval County Firearm Crime Rate 

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