San Francisco shooter: How did repeat felon get gun?

Francisco Sanchez, a seven-time convicted felon who has been accused of fatally shooting a woman on a San Francisco pier, has admitted to committing the crime. 

San Francisco Police Department/Reuters
Francisco Sanchez is seen in an undated photo released by the San Francisco Police Department. Sanchez has been arrested in connection with the shooting death of Kathryn Steinle, who was shot to death, in an apparent random act, at a San Francisco tourist site on Wednesday.

The man arrested in the fatal shooting of a woman at San Francisco’s Pier 14 has confessed to the crime – though he said it was an accident.

In a jailhouse interview Sunday with KGO-TV’s Cornell Barnard, Francisco Sanchez, speaking in a mix of Spanish and English, said he had found the gun, wrapped inside a shirt, while he was sitting on a bench and smoking a cigarette at the pier. He had picked it up and “it started to fire on its own,” Mr. Sanchez said, adding that he has poor vision and was under the influence of sleeping pills when he shot and killed Kathryn Steinle.

Ms. Steinle was out on a walk with her father and a family friend when the shooting occurred on July 1. Witnesses heard no arguments before the shooting, which suggests it was a random attack. Police arrested Sanchez a few blocks from the crime scene after witnesses snapped photos of him immediately after the shooting.

The subsequent arrest of Sanchez, a seven-time felon and undocumented immigrant from Mexico, has drawn attention to immigration issues, which have long been the subject of increasingly heated debate. His confession, however, has also highlighted another sticky subject: gun control, in particular whether or not stricter laws around gun ownership effectively prevent fatal shootings.

Advocates of gun control have long argued for more regulation around who can own and purchase firearms, as well as around permits needed to carry a concealed weapon in public – and have fought harder to do so after incidents such as the San Francisco pier shooting and last month’s killing of nine people at a church in Charleston, S.C by a lone gunman.

“Every day, 88 lives are lost in shootings across our nation,” Dan Gross, president of the Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence, said in a statement following the Charleston incident.

“Most of these tragedies are preventable through sensible solutions that just keep guns out of the wrong hands,” he added, “solutions like expanding Brady background checks on all gun sales, and shutting down the small number of ‘bad apple’ gun dealers that supply almost all crime guns.”

Gun control opponents, however, see these tragedies as further reason for average citizens to arm themselves.

Following the Charleston shooting, gun advocate John Lott wrote: “Not surprising that yet another mass public shooting has taken place where guns were banned. Yet, again, the ban only ensured that the victims were vulnerable.... With the exception of just two cases, all the mass public shootings since at least 1950 have occurred where guns are banned. This tragic case is no different.”

Other pro-gun pundits have noted that California’s gun control laws, which are among the comprehensive in the United States, failed to protect Steinle at the pier that night.

Sanchez’s felony convictions, “and the resulting ban on Sanchez purchasing or possessing a firearm – appear to have done nothing to keep him obtaining one and, worse still, using it,” conservative columnist AWR Hawkins wrote for right-wing news blog Breitbart.

While a balanced approach to the gun debate does exist, it’s one that “would require the two warring sides to agree on several contentious issues,” the Atlantic’s Jeffrey Goldberg wrote in 2012.

Gun rights supporters would have to acknowledge that more stringent and universal background checks and permit laws are necessary to keep guns out of the hands of criminals and the mentally unstable, Mr. Goldberg wrote. At the same time, anti-gun advocates would need to realize that gun control is not the only solution to gun violence – and that responsible gun ownership is also an answer, he added.

The important thing is that both sides be open to discussion, because, Goldberg pointed out, “Guns are with us, whether we like it or not. Maybe this is tragic, but it is also reality.”

This report includes material from the Associated Press.

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