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Guns, crime, fear, & the ineffective SJ County juvenile justice system
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I do not own a gun.

But I understand why gun ownership is growing.

It’s because of fear being fanned by our broken justice system.

Consider this: The crime rate in similar-sized towns in North Dakota and California are overall roughly the same based on federal reporting standards with two basic exceptions – burglaries and acts of violence. Both categories of crime are significantly higher in California.

At first glance it might have something to do with guns. Based on the FBI’s National Instant Crime Background Check System North Dakota is the 8th highest armed state with 17,879 guns per 100,000 residents. California comes in 44th at 5,444 guns per 100,000 residents.

There isn’t a consistent correlation, though, between the number of guns and the murder rate. North Dakota has 1.5 murders per 100,000 residents while California is at 4.9 per 100,000. And if you think that is because of a primarily rural state being compared to a more urbanized state guess again. New York was 48th on the gun ownership list at 3,047 per 100,000 but had a murder rate of 4.5 per 100,000. Louisiana, on the other hand, is the murder capita when it comes to states with 11.2 murders per 100,000 while they were 21st in gun ownership at 13,329.

There obviously are other factors at work when it comes to crime.

Look at the way juvenile crime is handled in Williston, N.D. – a wild oil boomtown – compared to San Joaquin County. Get caught shoplifting, underage drinking or causing an accident when you’re not licensed to drive and the courts send you to a juvenile detention center. Those crimes in Manteca, Ripon, and Lathrop – thanks to the dismal shape of the San Joaquin County justice system – rate a citation, if that, when teens are caught breaking the law.

Your values, views, and grasp of consequences are shaped primarily when you are growing up.

This past weekend at the downtown street fair, a well-dressed 16-year-old boy was caught stealing candy from a vendor. Two Manteca Police officers interceded. They gave him a stern talking to knowing they couldn’t send him to juvenile hall. That’s a non-starter in a county where you have to be an underage rape, violent assault or murder suspect to get locked up. They then called the teen’s mother. Given the response of the mother – who by all accounts takes parenting seriously – that call was a bigger punishment and more of a teachable moment than anything the police could do with a citation.

A few years back a teen was recruiting 10, 11, and 12 year-olds to burglarize homes in Manteca that he had cased. The police knew who the kid was and had arrested him on numerous occasions. But because of the juvenile justice system in this county, all they could do was essentially play catch and release. They figured he was responsible for over $500,000 in stolen property based simply on what they recovered. The teen’s luck ran out when he turned 18 and committed yet another burglary. The police could finally arrest him and lock him up in jail.

If there is no consequence, teens aren’t going to be deterred from doing criminal acts. By the time they are 18, they are already well on the path of no return.

What brings all of this up are two burglaries in the Powers Tract neighborhood in the past week or so done by an apparent tweaker. Both homes were unoccupied during the daytime burglaries. One was a home that had been bought out of foreclosure, fixed up and was ready to rent until suspect did a lot of damage to the home’s interior. The other was a home where the occupant was in the process of moving out.

In both cases the tweaker was back on the street in less than 24 hours without having to post bail.

The odds of that happening in North Dakota are zilch.

The collective fear, of course, is that such criminals become bolder and more brazen hence the growth in gun ownership. What happens when someone strung out on drugs or has no reason to believe there are consequences to their evil acts encounters someone in a home? That is what weighs on people’s minds.

The fear is very real when people see that those who commit such acts aren’t even slapped on the wrist anymore.

And the experts wonder why people are buying more and more guns.

Go figure.

This column is the opinion of managing editor, Dennis Wyatt, and does not necessarily represent the opinion of The Bulletin or Morris Newspaper Corp. of CA.  He can be contacted at or 209-249-3519.