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Boston's Growing Murder Problem

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Since finishing up my time interning with the Criminal Justice Legal Foundation I have moved back to Boston to begin my final year at Suffolk University Law School. While back here I am a Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court Rule 3.03 Certified Student Prosecutor. That basically means I intern for a local District Attorney's office with all the responsibilities and powers of an Assistant District Attorney but am always under the supervision of someone who makes sure I don't screw things up too bad. These opinions are my own and not that of CJLF, the Plymouth County District Attorney's Office, and most certainly not that of Suffolk University Law School.
 
I come back to a city in crisis, as the gun violence and murder rates from the summer have dwarfed, in historic proportions, the rates from the previous summer and the past several summers.
Now it remains true, compared to cities of similar size, Boston remains relatively non-violent, and despite the best efforts of some legislators and others, even the massive uptick in the past year will not put us on par with cities like Chicago, Baltimore, or Detroit.
 
However, for its part, the state legislature has responded by passing even stricter gun control legislation, and Boston Mayor Marty Walsh has turned to yet another, undoubtedly successful gun buyback program. But these new laws and new programs won't do anything to make the city safer.
 
Two major issues somewhat unique to Boston need to be addressed if the city hopes to reverse this trend in gun crime, and sooner rather than later would be good.
 
The first issue is Boston's disproportionately large and thriving illegal gun market.
 
This is largely the result of Massachusetts' overly onerous and intrusive gun laws. Massachusetts is a "may issue" state with regards to both CCW permits and now FID cards. For basically whatever reason an issuing authority sees fit, someone can be denied a permit to carry as well as the permit required to purchase handguns, rifles and shotguns.
 
As a result, many of the city's poorer urban residents who are otherwise law abiding citizens have been forced into the black market for guns to protect themselves and their homes rather than face the burdensome fees and processes involved with acquiring a gun legally. Additional regulations have made it harder to acquire a gun by having the effect of reducing the supply of legally available firearms in the Commonwealth. With a larger demand for guns on the illegal market than simply for those who would do harm with those weapons, gun traffickers in MA have been lining their pockets as the General Court passed more restrictive laws. Perhaps this is why Massachusetts bucked the national trend in violent crime reduction when it passed its landmark gun control legislation in 1998.

The second cause is an abysmal enforcement effort on the part of law enforcement in the city and county. The longer that gun traffickers, black market dealers and gun criminals go unpunished the more brazen and brash the market becomes. The city has long had a truly terrible record of arresting and prosecuting "people who shoot other people with guns."
 
This ties in nicely with a second major issue that must be addressed, a complete lack of deterrence. Since Cesaer Beccaria said it 250 years ago, the certainty, swiftness, and severity of a punishment are what clearly deter crime.
 
As I noted above, the abysmal record of local law enforcement of arresting and prosecuting gun criminals has taken away any notion of swiftness or certainty of prosecution and punishment. And since 1984, Massachusetts has lacked the ultimate and most severe punishment, capital punishment.
 
Until Massachusetts gets serious about punishing the worst of violent offenders justly, it cannot hope to reverse this trend.

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