Twist and Shout

Twist and Shout
Life is never straight (Joey Kulkin photo)

Monday, May 14, 2012

Part III: The Prosecutors Strike Back

Some of the 214 guns that were exchanged for food

Mercer County Prosecutor Joe Bocchini

TRENTON -- Mercer County Prosecutor Joe Bocchini started the conversation off the record. He came back on the record to say Saturday's "Food For Guns" exchange was quote-unquote illegal if you go by the letter of the law. But not really. Because Jersey's Attorney General Guidelines for gun buybacks or exchanges allows police types to operate within the spirit of the law, and that's why Bocchini said the writer of the letter below doesn't know what he's talking about and should chill out. "The law doesn't apply to this operation," Bocchini said at 6 tonight. He said Middlesex County had a buyback 2 weeks ago. Camden has gun buybacks all the time, as do other Jersey towns.

"The guns that were taken in, by far most of them were operable and were able to function," Bocchini said. "There were a few antiques and relics, but so what? When you take weapons that kill or cause severely bodily injuries to cops or citizens, it's a good thing. I believe it will benefit the City of Trenton."

The writer cited 5 instances in which firearms can be transported in Jersey and said everyone who showed up Saturday with a gun or two should have been arrested if you go by the letter of the law. But Bocchini and Assistant Prosecutor Angelo Onofri used the state's fugitive surrender program as an example of "limited safe passage" in relation to the spirit of the law. Let's say Johnny Ramirez was driving to the Trenton Fire Department for the exchange but a cop pulled him over and found a revolver wrapped in a bag that's tucked away in the trunk. All Ramirez would have had to do is tell the cop he's headed to the exchange, and there's a 99.9 percent chance the cop would not have written him up for having the gun. For speeding, yes. Gun, no. But even if the cop had a wild hair up his butt and ran Ramirez before the judge, the judge would have laughed after Ramirez told him he was headed to exchange his gun for a $100 food card. Bocchini and Onofri said these kinds of situations are spelled out in the AG Guidelines that were written in 1994 so that gun buybacks could work hand in hand with laws on the books. (Although, what if Johnny Ramirez used the safe passage line as a ruse to get out of the traffic stop then went to shoot Grantland Reiss dead AND THEN then went to the TFD to exchange the murder weapon for a $100 gift card from ShopRite? That would've been messed up. Poor Grantland Reiss. Such a nice kid. Who's signing the white sheet? But, hey, at least Johnny Ramirez would've eaten well for the next few days thanks to ShopRite.)

Sure, Bocchini said, the downside to anonymous gun buybacks is that guns cannot be used as evidence if they're linked to crimes. On the flip side, we're in the CSI era of solving crimes, and Bocchini and Onofri said you don't need the smoking gun to get a conviction. "There are very few cases where you ever have the murder weapon," Onofri said. That doesn't mean he or Bocchini dismiss the fact some of Saturday's 214 returned guns were used in crimes, possibly murders. "That bothers me," Bocchini said. "But at the same time we removed 100s of other guns that may have been used in homicides, burglaries and assaults."

Onofri said Mercer County law enforcement types contemplated scenarios in which a murder gun was exchanged for food. The silver lining, Onofri said, is that it's one less gun that can be used against citizens and one less gun that can be used against the police."

All guns are destroyed, but Onofri said an owner whose gun was stolen can call the prosecutor's office and get it back by providing the serial number. As far as other laws the writer said county authorities broke Saturday, such as cops "buying" more than one gun in a 30-day period, Bocchini said the guy is being overzealous and needs uncock the hammer.