By Joel A. Harrison, PhD, MPH
Photo: Creative Commons image by Rama
Updated August 6, 2015 (San Diego's East County) --As the narrative goes, Juan Francisco López-Sánchez, an illegal immigrant with a long criminal history in the United States, who had been deported several times, was to be deported again; but San Francisco’s sanctuary law delayed handing him over to the Immigration and Nationalization Service. López-Sánchez claims he found the gun and was shooting at sea lions, not Ms. Steinle. There is no evidence that he was trying to rob Ms Steinle, nor even confronted her, so his claim may be true. However, an investigation found that the gun was stolen from a federal agent’s car. Whether López-Sánchez actually was the person who stole the gun from the car or how he obtained the gun is unclear at this time. In either case, he is still guilty of manslaughter, whether shooting at sea lions, at tin cans, or in the air, his actions, together with his previous criminal history, should get the maximum sentence.
However, what is missing from the narrative is why it was so easy for López-Sánchez to get a gun.
In this case, a gun was carelessly left in a car. Cars are stolen. Cars are broken into. It wouldn’t be the first time a gun was stolen from a car or, if he found it after it was stolen, it wouldn’t be the first time a “discarded” gun was found in this country. Even children have found them.
Reports have also found it is cheaper to buy a gun in many cities than a pair of jeans. And the infamous Willy Horton story used by Bush Sr. against Dukakis in their race to the White House left out the fact that Willy Horton did not enter the house armed; but found the handgun in the nightstand next to the owner’s bed. The gun they owned for protection was used against them. The National Rifle Association would have us all armed at all times; but how would this have helped Ms. Steinle?
Any time an innocent life is lost, it is one too many; but what would the narrative have been if some homeless American had stolen or found the gun or a kid with the same tragic result? Numerous studies show immigrants, including illegal ones, commit in proportion to their numbers less crime than citizens (see below). The sanctuary laws may need some revision; but one of their main purposes is to increase cooperation with the police. If immigrants, legal and illegal, are stopped by the police to check their status, they will see the police as the enemy and be reluctant to cooperate as witnesses or victims of crime. However, obviously these laws need revisions to ensure that criminals such as López-Sánchez do not slip through the cracks.
So, while I have no problem with an honest debate on the sanctuary laws, I think the tragic death of Kathryn Steinle, one more in a never ending tally of gun deaths, should more productively focus on the incredibly easy access that everyone in this country has to guns.
SOME ARTICLES ON IMMIGRANTS AND CRIME:
Kristin F. Butcher and Anne Morrison Piehl. Why are Immigrants’ Incarceration Rates So Low? Evidence on Selective Immigration, Deterrence, and Deportation. National Bureau of Economic Research, July 2007, Available at: http://www.nber.org/papers/w13229.pdf
David Leonhard. Immigrants and Prison. The New York Times, May 30, 2007. Available at: http://www.nytimes.com/2007/05/30/business/30leonside.html
Jacob I. Stowell et al. Immigration and the Recent Violent Crime Drop in the United States: A Pooled, Cross-Sectional Time-Series Analysis of Metropolitan Areas. Criminology, Vol 47, No. 3, 2009: 889-928. Available at many university libraries.
Xia Wang. Undocumented Immigrants as Perceived Criminal Threat: A Test of the Minority Threat Perspective, Criminology, Vol 50, Nov 3, 2012: 743-776. Available at many university libraries.
Joel A. Harrison, PhD, MPH is a retired epidemiologist and native San Diegan. His family has been in San Diego since 1936. Dr. Harrison has been actively engaged in supporting the adoption of a single-payer-non-profit health care system, Medicare for All (see Physicians for a National Health Program’s website at: http://www.pnhp.org ) and is currently writing articles in support of vaccinations for Every Child By Two, an organization founded in 1991 by
Rosalyn Carter (former President Jimmy Carter’s wife) and Betty Bumpers (wife of former Governor of Arkansas) to promote vaccinations in children. You can find Dr. Harrison’s articles at: http://www.ecbt.org/index.php/facts_and_issues/article/expert_commentary .
The views and opinions are those of the author and not necessarily those of the East County Magazine. Those with a viewpoint for consideration should contact the editor at firstname.lastname@example.org.