Denver's "gun court" wouldn't punish teen gun crimes as strictly

There’s a new plan afoot in the Mile High City and it’s got a lot of justice reform advocates pretty excited. You see, Denver has been experiencing a marked upswing in gun violence in recent years, particularly when it comes to gun crimes committed by teenagers. This has residents feeling uneasy and looking to their elected leaders for answers and stability. Preparing to deliver just that, the city’s leadership is rolling out a new proposal tailored to this issue.

What’s being planned is something called the “Community Accountability Board.” It’s also been described as a “gun court” designed to handle the specific needs of young people engaged in gun violence. So will they be finding ways to crack down on such threats? Not exactly. They’re more looking to “rescue” the perpetrators from “going down the criminal justice rabbit hole.” (CBS Denver)

The plan was to create a handgun intervention program, or a “gun court.” It is modeled much like other specialized courts for issues like substance abuse. The idea is to prevent young people charged with gun possession from escalating to more serious crimes and empower them to make better life choices, a spokesperson for the Denver DA’s Office explained.

“At the heart of this program is the Community Accountability Board,” spokesperson Carolyn Tyler told CBS4 in an email. “Youth offenders will be held accountable by and derive guidance from members of this board.”

“I think anything we can do on the front end to hopefully deter a young person from going further down into the criminal justice rabbit hole is necessary,” McMillan told CBS4’s Kelly Werthmann.

The people planning this initiative are dancing around the risk of saying precisely what they’re talking about here. But the truth is obvious and has been for a while. Denver is dealing with an escalating gang violence problem. The Denver Post published a deep dive on the subject last October. In addition to the usual gangs engaged in illegal drug and weapons sales, the city is dealing with a new breed of so-called “hybrid gangs.” These groups form in schools and detention centers, are generally small in terms of the number of members and frequently engage in gun violence to control turf. They are also frequently not tied to any particular neighborhood and roam across the city.

So what is this new “gun court” going to do to deal with this plague? They’re going to focus on “family interventions, gun education, counseling and community resources.” Their overarching goal is to “prevent young people charged with gun possession from escalating to more serious crimes and empower them to make better life choices.”

Look, I completely understand how heartbreaking it must be for many families to learn that one of their children has gotten involved with the gangs and taken to breaking the law and packing weapons. This is particularly true when the young people almost inevitably wind up either behind bars or in an early grave. So if Denver thinks they have the tools to reach out and intervene in a young person’s life and put them back on the straight and narrow, I say God bless. Give it your best effort.

But at the same time, they should keep in mind the staggering lack of success so many other cities have had in this area. They’re talking about kids in the age range of 16-19. By that time, too many kids are already lost causes, sadly. And if you’re catching them after they’ve already been convicted or arrested for violent crimes involving a gun, something tells me a lot of them won’t derive much benefit from “gun education.” (Sounds like they’ve already figured out how they work.)

Meanwhile, the victims of gun crimes are going to be watching if you set up a revolving door for those who are shooting people or committing armed robbery. I suppose I could see trying to “intervene” to save one of these young people after their first offense, but if they go back to their old ways and commit another crime, they need to be in jail, not a rehab clinic. These feel-good programs allow city leaders to pat themselves on the back and talk about how woke they are. But they don’t accomplish the first, fundamental responsibility of the municipal government which is keeping law-abiding citizens safe in their homes and on the streets.