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Hillsborough County sees increase in gun-related juvenile arrests

With the concealed carry on campus bill moving steadily through the Florida Legislature, the issue of gun violence has been hotly debated, as well as underage access to such weapons as the result of an insurgence of gun owners.

The Hillsborough County Sheriff’s Office reported over 200 gun-related cases involving juveniles in 2013 and nearly 500 in 2014. There have been as many cases this year. 

According to the Tampa Bay Times, Hillsborough County has seen an increase in the number of juveniles facing adult-level charges, with data from the Florida Department of Juvenile Justice showing an increase from 101 to 124 in the last fiscal year. 

The ability to make this shift, according to the Times, lies in discretion given to Florida prosecutors to charge juveniles as adults in a process known as direct filing, which is increasingly likely if a gun is involved.

“Typically, when you’re dealing with gun crimes, the bar is starting pretty high right away,” Michael Sinacore, Hillsborough County chief assistant state attorney, told the Times. 

“This is the new phenomenon,” Ralph C. Stoddard, a Hillsborough County circuit judge, told the Times. “It used to be that when we’d do juvenile detention hearings, we rarely saw gun cases … and now, every time we do detentions, I see at least one gun case.”

This increase has raised concerns, with the recent debate about concealed carry on campus raging in classrooms.

One organization, Students for Gun Free Schools (SGFS) cited several reasons against the concealed weapons in an essay entitled “Why Our Campuses are Safer Without Concealed Handguns.” These reasons include “the prevalence of drugs and alcohol … the risk of suicide and mental health issues … the likelihood of gun thefts … (and) an increased risk of accidental shootings.” 

According to a 2001 study by U.S. Department of Education, “the overall homicide rate at postsecondary education institutions was 0.07 per 100,000 of enrollment in 1999 … the criminal homicide rate in the United States was 5.7 per 100,000 persons overall in 1999, and 14.1 per 100,000 for persons ages 17 to 29.”

“This research demonstrates conclusively that students on the campuses of postsecondary institutions are significantly safer than both their off-campus counterparts and the nation as a whole,” SGFS argued in its essay. 

Not all homicides involve guns — however, they were involved in 68 percent of all homicides in the U.S. in 2010, according to the Law Center to Prevent Gun Violence. And while not all juvenile gun cases are homicides — some are robberies, some are simply charges of possession — statistics show they are increasing in number. 

With an increase in the number of juveniles being given adult charges, the consequences could become greater since adult charges are often harsher than those for juveniles.

According to the Times, Hillsborough was not the only county to see an increase in juveniles being charged as adults, but it isn’t a state-wide trend, as other counties either stayed level or dropped.