“Two New York men are accused of selling untraceable firearms known as ‘ghost guns’ to undercover investigators,” ny.cbslocal.com reports. NY AG Eric Schneiderman is pleased. “Ghost guns represent a new, dangerous frontier of illegal firearm trafficking — the creation of homemade, completely untraceable, military-grade firearms. It does not matter if you build it yourself or buy it off the street corner — an illegal gun is an illegal gun, and we will prosecute you to the fullest extent of the law.” Fair enough? I’m not so sure . . .
As far as I’m concerned, police “stings” are inherently unreliable. The big question: would Thomas Weber and Antonio Himonitis [above] have manufactured and sold the guns if the cops didn’t encourage/entice/trick them into doing it? The operative word here is “entrapment.” Wikipedia:
In criminal law, entrapment is a practice whereby a law enforcement agent induces a person to commit a criminal offense that the person would have otherwise been unlikely to commit. It is a conduct that is generally discouraged and thus, in many jurisdictions, it is a possible defense against criminal liability.
Doesn’t sound very good, does it? I mean the bit about entrapment being a defense “in many jurisdictions.” Consider the reverse of that statement: entrapment is not a defense in many jurisdictions. So if the cops encourage/entice/trick someone into committing a crime, tough you-know-what for the person caught-up in a “sting.” Especially if the person lured into criminal conduct has a criminal record.
Police “stings” are fundamentally different from traditional police work, where law enforcement responds to a crime and seeks to arrest the perpetrator. “Stings” are popular amongst the po-po because they work; most criminals are not the sharpest tools in the box. And when it comes to entrapment, greed is good.
“Stings” are an excellent way for police and prosecutors to rack-up “wins.” And they’re fun! Pretending to be a bad guy is a welcome break from the often mundane and fruitless task of investigation. It’s no wonder hundreds of Hollywood crime movies are based on “undercover stings.” Or that NBC’s “To Catch a Predator” was such a big hit.
Apart from diverting cops from traditional work, police “stings” have a significant downside. They create criminals.
There are plenty of examples of police agents not taking “no” for an answer. In Sherman v. United States, the Supreme Court threw out a conviction based on an agent’s persistence. Unfortunately, that case hasn’t stopped the police from using entrapment to entrap citizens. The New York arrest is one of thousands of police “stings” run every year around the country, many involving vulnerable drug addicts, some ending in tragedy.
Our good friends at the ATF are notorious for their love of sting operations. In 2013, they created a fake gun store in Milwaukee. Even a brief look at that operation – wherein the ATF convinced a mentally sub-normal visitor to have the shop’s logo tattooed on his neck – reveals the inherent dangers of the technique.
In short, police stings are a good idea for police, a bad idea for society. An illegal gun may be an illegal gun, but not all police procedures are the same.