Issues

CNN Blames Bar Shooting on Lax Gun Laws. It Got The Facts Wrong

Shooter was not legally allowed to carry weapon

Getty Images

A CNN article on a recent Kansas City bar shooting mischaracterized the shooter's criminal history to blame the killing on Missouri's gun laws.

Police identified 29-year-old Jahron Swift as the shooter who killed one woman and injured 15 before he was killed by an armed guard January 19. CNN published a report Wednesday saying Swift likely would have gone to prison over a weapons charge if not for the state's 2017 permitless carry law. However, the report obfuscated the date of Swift's charge to suggest the law let him off the hook for it.

All of Swift's prior arrests and weapons charges came before Missouri's gun law went into effect. Even after it was enacted on Jan. 1, 2017, the permitless carry law would not have nullified Swift's pending unlawful use of weapons charges. But regardless of the permitless carry law, Swift was convicted of two felonies and therefore could not have legally carried a gun.

"Court records show that Swift had two weapons charges in 2016 and 2017. The 2016 charge was for unlawful use of a weapon and marijuana possession, according to court records," the CNN report reads. "Swift was charged in 2017 with unlawful concealed carry, which could have revoked his probation on the previous charge and increased his chances of going to prison.… However, the second charge came as [the] Missouri legislature adopted measures that permitted concealed weapons being carried without a permit."

Swift was not on probation at the time of his second arrest, as the report insinuates, and he received a drug felony charge in addition to the weapons charge allegedly nullified by the state's gun laws.

Swift was arrested following an August 2015 traffic stop in which he was caught with five grams of cocaine, more than $1,100 in cash, and a .45 caliber semiautomatic handgun. He was charged with possession of a controlled substance and unlawful use of a weapon. CNN's report failed to mention Swift's possession of cocaine. A permitless carry law would not have impacted Swift's weapons charge, as Swift was in possession of both a weapon and a felony controlled substance.

Swift was released on bond under the conditions that he not possess a firearm or be in the presence of a firearm. While out on bond, Swift was once again arrested and charged with unlawful use of a weapon in 2016. Though the arrest violated Swift's release conditions, a county judge denied a motion to revoke his bond, as the charges stemming from his August 2015 arrest were still being processed by the courts.

CNN did not respond to a request for comment.

Mike Mansur, a spokesman for the Jackson County prosecutor's office, confirmed the timeline of Swift's criminal history but declined to comment further.

Jackson County prosecutor Jean Peters Baker blamed lawmakers for the dismissal of the weapons charge stemming from Swift's 2016 arrest. She suggested she dropped Swift's charge in expectation the permitless carry law would nullify it.

"It's like Prohibition. One day it's illegal and the next day, it's legal," she told the Kansas City Star.

Swift went on to plead guilty in March 2017 to one count of possession of a controlled substance, a class C felony, and one count of unlawful use of a weapon, a class D felony. Under Missouri law, the punishment for a class D felony ranges from two to four years, while class C felons face sentences of two to seven years. As a part of his plea deal, Swift received three years probation. Swift was also ordered to forfeit the weapon he possessed during the August 2015 traffic stop. While he did not receive a jail sentence, he was still not legally permitted to own a firearm.

Jackson County has a history of letting felons off on probation. The county gave twice as many probation sentences for second-degree murder or voluntary manslaughter as all of the state's other circuit courts combined from 2009 to 2013, according to a Star report.

Politicians have also attempted to blame the shooting on lax gun laws. Kansas City mayor Quinton Lucas told the Star it was "deeply concerning" that Swift "was allowed to continue carrying a firearm" without mentioning Swift was legally barred from possessing one. Lucas did not respond to request for comment.

While gun-control supporters have used the shooting to criticize the state's permitless carry law, one local prosecutor disputed the notion that a stricter law would have prevented the shooting.

"It goes back to what we say all the time. You can have whatever laws you want to have, but if somebody wants to have a gun, and they have less than pure motives, they'll find a way to get that gun regardless of what the rules are," the prosecutor, who requested anonymity to speak candidly, said.