The Law Kathryn Steinle’s Murder Should Inspire

On July 1 Kathryn Steinle was shot in San Francisco by undocumented immigrant Francisco Sanchez.  Sanchez had already been deported to Mexico five times and was in jail and likely to be deported again.  However he was mistakenly released from jail on April 13 rather than being turned over to federal authorities.  Less than three months later he kills Kathryn Steinle.

People are clearly upset and for good reason.  Yet another gun death in the United States.  No excuses.  And people want something done in response.

Kathryn Steinle’s father, in fact, recently testified at a U.S. Senate hearing calling for stronger immigration enforcement.  It is hard to fault the father, but what role is he playing in this overall immigration debate?

Heated emotions rarely make a good foundation for sound legislation.  Following Steinle’s murder, a quick call to do something about illegal immigration could be heard from some corners.  This, I guess, is at least consistent with some rhetoric in this country.  Guns don’t kill people — right? — people kill people.  And in this case that person was an immigrant.  But to condemn all immigrants based on this crime is as logical as blaming all white men when a white man commits a crime, isn’t it?  The connection to immigration is bait to draw people toward the unrelated issue of immigration in the United States.  Disregard it.  There is a better law that could come from this gun death…and all others like it.  That is universal background checks prior to gun purchases in the United States.

Doesn’t it seem reasonable that an illegal immigrant would be found out if background checks were mandatory?  At the very least this would be one more legal barrier for illegal immigrants to overcome.  If you are an American citizen with a clear background, no problems for you.  Sure, some people will still get guns illegally, but that should hardly justify no law at all.  People disregard all kinds of laws, but we still keep the laws on the books.  And to go back to the old adage that guns don’t kill, people kill…well, bad people will continue to do illegal things, like acquire guns illegally.  Does that forestall the need for some effort to get a grip on gun violence in this country?

If the concern really is the problem of illegal immigrants having guns and randomly killing American citizens — a horrible crime regardless of how infrequently it happens — why not make it harder for people to commit the crime in the first place.  As a bonus, you might catch some undocumented people in the process.  Right?

Lawmakers using this specific and very public crime as a point in enforcing harsher immigration laws are doing nothing more than exploiting the tragedy.  If they really wanted to crack down on random gun crimes they would address that very real problem.  Immigrants account for a very small fraction of gun crimes in the United States.  So these calls for tougher immigration laws in the name of Kathryn Steinle ring hollow.


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