I read with interest the story published by The Salt Lake Tribune entitled, “Salt Lake City mayoral candidates say young people must push City Hall to take ‘courageous steps’ in gun violence prevention.”
In 2016, I was at home getting ready for work when my 7th-grade son texted that there was an active shooter at his school. I sat with my wife feeling helpless and terrorized as we waited for more information. Two of my children were attending Mueller Junior High school in Bountiful when a fellow student brought and fired a round at the school. Thankfully, our worst nightmare was avoided, as no child was injured before the shooter was apprehended.
As both a parent and the West Valley City prosecutor, I spend a lot of time thinking about how we can prevent gun violence. In my mind, there are many common-sense laws that might reduce gun violence without compromising one’s constitutional right to bear arms. As is mentioned in the article, most require consensus amongst our federal or state legislative branches, which can be hard to come by.
Here is one idea almost everyone can agree upon, one that local officials can enact today. Let’s prioritize enforcing the firearm restriction laws we currently have. West Valley City leaders have done just that.
In 2002, West Valley City partnered with our federal allies at the United States Attorney’s Office to join a federal initiative called Project Safe Neighborhoods. West Valley City assigned and cross-designated several of its detectives to work alongside the ATF to investigate and arrest restricted persons who possess firearms. These are primarily felons, drug dealers and spouse abusers. In other words, people who when they possess a firearm become the highest-risk people in our communities.
West Valley has also assigned its city prosecutors (like me) to become cross-deputized to serve as Special Assistant United States Attorneys. This appointment allows us to indict these high-risk cases in the federal court system. Our office usually indicts around 40 to 50 such offenders each year. Upon conviction, our highest-risk criminals then get sent to federal prisons across the county. The average sentence is around four years, with even longer sentences for those with the most violent criminal histories.
Our partnership is now 17 years and running. We have successfully prosecuted hundreds of our community’s most violent criminals. We’ve removed these offenders (and their firearms) from our communities. We’ve sent them to prison on the federal dime, easing the burden on our overburdened state prison. The Department of Justice even awarded our city the Outstanding Local Prosecutor’s Award in 2018 for our efforts.
Our success has been the fruit of local West Valley leaders who are committed to reducing gun violence in our communities. It’s been nourished by great leadership from the United States Attorney’s Office and their current U.S. Attorney John Huber, who cares deeply about eradicating gun violence in Utah. It’s a recipe that can be easily followed by our sister cities and counties across the state.
By all means, let’s keep discussing how we can make common-sense legislative gun reforms.
But, in the meantime, every city and community can make fighting gun violence a priority today.
Ryan Robinson is the chief prosecutor for West Valley City, where he was worked since 1999.