Bruce Murphy
Murphy’s Law

“We Have Criminals Shooting Criminals!”

And bystanders getting shot. Chief Flynn calls on legislators to get tougher on felons with guns.

By - Jun 26th, 2014 11:14 am
Milwaukee Police Chief Edward Flynn

Milwaukee Police Chief Edward Flynn

When Ed Flynn took over as police chief of Milwaukee in 2008 he was surprised by how lax the laws were for gun-toting criminals.

“Most of the states I’ve worked with had strong laws on the books,” he says. “In Boston, they have nowhere near the number of criminals with guns. They’ve got statutes that put you away if you carry a gun. That was the same deal in New Jersey. It’s really remarkable how lenient it is here for criminals with guns.”

Back in 2008, Wisconsin did not have a law allowing concealed carry of guns. Flynn expected it would likely come to this state and he supported such a measure. “People do have a right to protect themselves,” he says. But he also saw it as an opportunity to make distinctions between law abiding people and criminals. “One of the first things I advocated for was a concealed carry law that had teeth and standards.”

Flynn met with members of the Milwaukee legislative delegation to push for such legislation early in his tenure, but these were Democrats who opposed concealed carry. Once Gov. Scott Walker was elected and Republicans took over the legislature, however, concealed carry was legalized. But it was passed without the standards Flynn cautioned were needed to stop criminals from carrying guns.

“We regularly arrest career criminals with concealed carry permits,” he says.

“It’s an old story in Milwaukee, 80 percent of the offenders have a prior criminal history,”  Flynn notes. And many have guns. “In just the first five and a half months of the year, we’ve already seized more than 1,000 firearms and 80 percent of those seizures were related to people under arrest.”

“We have criminals shooting criminals and the only time they are likely to face consequences is after they’ve shot someone.” And often those shot are innocent bystanders. “We’ve already 246 people wounded by gunfire in Milwaukee and last year at this time it was 204.”

And typically the criminals are carrying legal firearms. “Just 8 percent of 1,000 guns seized were illegal,” Flynn notes. Criminals can buy guns on the internet, through straw purchases and hand-to-hand sales — all legally. “You can sell a gun on the streets of MIlwaukee and it’s perfectly legal.”

In the summer of 2013, amid the violence that typically gets worse in hot months — “because more people are outside encountering each other,” — Flynn asked Republican leaders to pass a law that would sentence any habitual criminal carrying a gun to a minimum of three years imprisonment.

Flynn met with state Sen. Alberta Darling (R-River Hills), who agreed to sponsor such a bill. “I’ve had several conversations with Sen Darling,” Flynn says. “She is the only Republican member of the Senate who has put pen to paper. I’ve always felt she’s been sincere in her concern with this issue.”

Flynn also met with other Gov. Scott Walker, Assembly Speaker Robin Vos (R-Burlington) and Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald (R-Juneau). “We’ve done power point presentations one on one for each of them,” Flynn says. “I think we opened some eyes. The discussions have all been civil, constructive and practical.”

Vos said he was open to the idea but would have to see the details. Walker said “I’m more than willing to talk with law enforcement here or anywhere else about creating mandatory minimum sentences for people who illegally possess a firearm. I’m all for that.”

That was nearly a year ago. And as Bill Lueders has written, the bill appears to have died.

Why? One problem may concern the definition of a “habitual criminal.” Flynn proposed applying a definition already in the statutes: anyone convicted of at least one felony or three misdemeanors. “It should be pretty straightforward to apply that definition to concealed carry,” he says.

One reason the statute includes those with three or more misdemeanors is that in the crowded courts of Milwaukee County, many criminals charged with felonies take a guilty plea with a misdemeanor charge. “We have lots of bad guys locked up for committing felonies but only charged with misdemeanors,” Flynn notes. “These are capacity issues. The courts are overcrowded.”

But the idea of applying the three-year minimum sentence to someone with three misdemeanors can be a sticking point for concealed carry advocates. What about someone charged with “teasing a bear,” Flynn was once asked.

“We’ve offered to work with legislators on the definition of misdemeanors,” he says. “We can — without any effort — come up with a list of misdemeanors that would disqualify you for a gun permit.” And they wouldn’t include teasing furry animals.

But Walker faces a November reelection campaign where every vote counts. Republicans need to get out their base and that includes the more fanatic advocates of unlimited conceal and carry. When he met with Republicans last year, Flynn says, “I sensed they felt constrained.They were not unaware of the political risks.”

The strange thing is that a majority of Wisconsin voters opposed concealed carry, as measured in past polls.  But among the minority who favor it is a minority of a minority so devoted to gun rights that they would even oppose laws against criminals taking vicious advantage of the currently lax standards.

“We’re talking about criminals with guns,” Flynn says. “They’re bad for everyone.” And they have every incentive to carry a gun, to protect themselves from other criminals carrying guns. “Right now if makes more sense for criminals to carry a gun than not carry a gun,” Flynn says.

He points to New York, which passed a tough law against criminals carrying guns. “Over time you saw a decline in arrests for this.  More rational criminals would lower their exposure to a three-year mandatory sentence.”

But in Milwaukee, there is no such deterrent. And so innocent bystanders, often children, are often shot and sometimes killed by criminals shooting at each other. There were four such gunshot victims in a period of just two weeks.

Which leaves Flynn all but pleading for help. “Some people see this as a Milwaukee problem, not a state problem,” he laments. “Sometimes I feel like I have to remind people that Milwaukee is in Wisconsin and these children who have been shot are in Wisconsin. They have the right to hope that their governor and their representatives will take prudent steps to protect them.”

Categories: Murphy's Law, Politics

12 thoughts on “Murphy’s Law: “We Have Criminals Shooting Criminals!””

  1. stacy moss says:

    This is a surprising constructive conversation between the Chief and public officials. But still, then there is the politics, more specifically the money that talks louder than the Chief or common sense.

    one other point…. you say…

    He points to New York, which passed a tough law against criminals carrying guns. “Over time you saw a decline in arrests for this. More rational criminals would lower their exposure to a three-year mandatory sentence.”

    Based on the evidence I don’t think you can say or imply raising the sentences caused the decline. It may be a contributing factor or not. We just don’t know. But it sounds good.

  2. Patty says:

    I agree with the Chief, but with one change. If someone is getting a felony pled down to a misdemeanor, there should be a stipulation in the plea agreement stating that they are no longer eligible to legally carry a gun. This would separate felons who lucked out with a plea deal from those who actually did only commit a misdemeanor offense, and would probably get more Republican support.

  3. Neil says:

    I dispute Flynn’s claim that “We regularly arrest career criminals with concealed carry permits”. That’s B.S. How does a so-called “career criminal” pass the background check? Concealed carry permits aren’t the problem. During years on the street, I and other agents routinely took guns off of street vermin who already were convicted felons but were rarely charged with felon in possession of a firearm. While I personally agree with making CCW a felony, it won’t work here since we currently have a D.A.’s office that won’t charge. Minimum mandatory sentencing felony CCW only worked in New York because the D.A.’s office there charged the crime. The local paper has detailed case after case of violent offenders who committed crimes only to be let out back on the street on small bond or given a short sentence by a liberal judge and these slugs always return to their old violent ways. The D.A.’s office and the Milwaukee Judiciary have the laws already on the books and the power to warehouse violent offenders but they won’t do it. I have yet to hear Flynn call out John Chisholm or the Judges.

  4. Tyrell Track Master says:

    Good article. The NRA really needs to go to hell…

  5. tim haering says:

    Flynn looks a smidge like Michael Palin in this photo. “Let me go back there and face the peril.” “No, it’s too perilous.” Sorry for the non-sequitur, Bruce.

  6. Andy says:

    I’m all for mandatory minimum sentences… but agree that we need to actually charge criminals for the crimes they are committing. The minimum sentence for a crime that is never charged is going to be zero.

    And can we please see felons being charged as felons?

    NRA generally has a stance on gun laws that the ones on the books need to be enforced, so I don’t see them being opposed to any of this.

  7. PMD says:

    The NRA is fighting for the gun rights of convicted stalkers, and they seem to oppose anything and everything. They are a radical, extremist organization.

  8. Andy says:

    That’s great that you are letting your feelings be known about the NRA. However, like I said, the NRA generally supports the idea that laws already on the books need to be enforced. Which is clearly not happening in Milwaukee.

  9. PMD says:

    Hardly a bold stance on their part. And for a group that claims to support enforcement of existing gun laws as opposed to creation of new ones, they sure work hard to repeal existing gun laws.

  10. Bill Sweeney says:

    “And typically the criminals are carrying legal firearms. “Just 8 percent of 1,000 guns seized were illegal,” Flynn notes. Criminals can buy guns on the internet, through straw purchases and hand-to-hand sales — all legally. “You can sell a gun on the streets of MIlwaukee and it’s perfectly legal.” ”

    A couple of points. I believe the NRA opposes universal background checks which allows people who could not legally obtain a firearm at a store to do so via the internet, straw purchases and hand-to-hand sales.

    Wisconsin law now prohibits someone who has been convicted of a felony from getting a concealed carry license so when Chief Flynn refers to criminals “carrying legal firearms,”does he mean to say that most criminals have not been convicted of a felony. I know about the whole plea bargain process, and I also know that there are people who have been convicted of multiple misdemeanors who are pretty dangerous people (for example, I believe the offense “disorderly conduct while armed” is a misdemeanor, and can be part of a plea bargain for someone originally charged with ‘endangering safety by conduct regardless of life’,) but still the suggestion that a small percentage of the confiscated guns come from convicted felons seems surprising.

    Poll after poll shows that a majority of gun owners favor some types of regulation. I keep waiting for a group of gun owners, and/or NRA members to start a new organization that both supports the gun ownership rights of responsible citizens as well as sensible regulations to keep guns out of the hands of people who a vast majority agree should not possess firearms.

  11. Wisconsin Conservative Digest says:

    Arrest career criminals with CC permits. Name them!! what percent of felons using guns go to jail?? Damn low. In Chicago only 6%. About same here from my sources. The problem is that the Barrett/Flynn/Chishholm/Kremer left wing cabal does not put people in jail;. Everyone involved in these shooting have long list of arrests. Listen to Clark and Donovan, Frankovis. They tell the truth. the others are full of BS.

  12. wisconsin Conservative Digest says:

    No new laws will have any effect on what is happening in Milwaukee. It all comes down to why aren’t these guys with guns in jail? They all have long records. They immediately plead away the guns part. Pass more laws when they do not enforce the ones we have now. They are just typical leftists that blame someone else for the problems. The path to less violence has been forged by Guiliani, Bloomberg and many other cities in the country. Compare SanAntonio, Austin with Milwaukee.

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