I’ve gotten used to the media and the anti-gun crowd blaming the firearm every time there is a high-profile shooting event. After all, they already have an agenda to vilify guns—regardless the facts in my opinion. However, I about fell out of my chair when the jury in San Francisco found Jose Ines Garcia Zarate, a.k.a. Juan Francisco Lopez-Sanchez, not guilty on the counts of first-degree murder, second-degree murder, and involuntary manslaughter in the death of Kate Steinle but guilty of being a felon in possession of a firearm. Allow me to explain.
By Dr. Dave Dolbee
First, the K-Var Armory is about firearms. The purpose of this story is to lay out a case of why so many blame the gun and the dangers that cause us to carry guns. Had Kate Steinle been armed on the night of her death, it would not have saved her. Had her father been armed, it would not have changed the outcome. However, there are plenty of threats every person on American soil faces on a daily basis. The threat is not a gun; it is the person holding the gun. Only through an examination of cases such as this can we demonstrate that guns are not the problem; certain people are the problem, and the fallacies that are being promoted every time segments of society allows the gun to be blamed instead of the individual.
Garcia Zarate’s (The Felon’s) Backstory
Garcia Zarate was formerly known as Juan Francisco Lopez-Sanchez—in addition to several other aliases, according to various encounters with immigration and law enforcement.
Prior to the Kate Steinle shooting, Garcia Zarate served time in a federal prison after being sentenced for illegal re-entry into the United States. He was transferred to San Francisco’s jail in March 2015 to face a 20-year-old charge for selling marijuana. However, the sheriff’s department released him a few days later after prosecutors dropped the charge—despite a request from federal immigration officials to detain him for deportation. Given his previous encounters with law enforcement, it is unclear why they did not attempt to prosecute the marijuana charge during any of Garcia Zarate’s previous arrests.
Garcia Zarate stated, after illegally reentering the United States, he went to San Francisco, knowing it would be less likely to prosecute him for certain crimes such as those that are immigration related.
Garcia Zarate’s release was, at least in part, due to the Sheriff’s department’s policy of limiting how much information regarding detainees it would share with Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE). This is commonly regarded as the type of so-called “sanctuary city” resistance to assisting federal immigration authorities—exactly what Garcia Zarate counted on.
Others have mentioned all of the details of this backstory, and it shows the character of Garcia Zarate, the type of people we walk among on a daily basis, and why we carry. Criminals understand the law, its weaknesses, and how to best manipulate it to their advantage. They are calculating in their victimization of the law-abiding citizens.
The Undisputed Facts Against the Felon
- Garcia Zarate gave statements to police that were proven to be wrong. As a result, he changed his story. After meeting with counsel, his story changed again.
- Dating back to 1991, Garcia Zarate had seven felony convictions prior to Steinle’s shooting.
- Garcia Zarate had been deported five times and was being sought for a sixth deportation.
- After the Steinle shooting, Garcia Zarate kicked the gun into the water and fled the scene.
- Garcia Zarate was a felon knowingly in possession of a firearm—a felony in California.
- Garcia Zarate did not deny shooting Steinle. However, he claimed it was an accident.
- After his arrest, investigators found gunshot residue on his right hand.
- The jury found Garcia Zarate guilty of being a felon in possession of a firearm, but not guilty of a negligent discharge.
Why the Felon Was Found Not Guilty
Now, all of this sounds pretty damning—an open-and-shut case against the man, not the gun. However, it is the language of the law that allowed the jury to blame the gun and not the felon.
At a minimum, most believe Garcia Zarate should have been found guilty of involuntary manslaughter, but that would have required him to be guilty of a negligent discharge. Under California Penal Code 246.3, the legal definition of negligently discharging a firearm consists of three elements. All three must be proven to be convicted of a crime:
- You intentionally shot a firearm or a BB device.
- You shot the firearm or device with “gross negligence.”
- The shooting could have resulted in someone’s injury or death.
This means one of the key elements of the crime of negligent discharge is that Garcia Zarate must have fired the gun intentionally. If Garcia Zarate pulled the trigger by accident, he would not be guilty of this offense. If he believed the gun was not loaded—therefore, he believed he would not hurt anyone by pulling the trigger—he would not guilty of this offense.
The Conviction of the Gun
The defense blamed the gun by claiming the trigger pull was too light, making it dangerous and susceptible to just “going off” on its own.
The defense claimed the pistol, a .40-caliber SIG Sauer P239, had a record of accidental discharges. In truth, they blamed all SIGs, lumping cherry-picked reports of accidental discharges, claiming SIG models were over represented in the reports.
While the P239’s double-action trigger pull was reportedly nine pounds, in single action it would have likely been around five pounds. During the trial, Matt Gonzalez, a lawyer for the defense, said, “We want the judge to allow the jury to dry fire it in single-action mode. I am very confident, if you handle this firearm in single-action mode and depress the trigger, it’s very light.” This seemed to have happened, because one of the last things the jury did was request the gun be brought to the deliberation room so they could dry fire it.
Matt Gonzalez claimed Garcia Zarate found the gun at the pier. He said it was wrapped in cloth, and when Garcia Zarate unwrapped it, the gun accidentally discharged. If this is to be believed, remembering the elements necessary to be convicted of Penal Code 246.3, Garcia Zarate would have had to have known the firearm was loaded and intentionally pulled the trigger. Otherwise, Steinle’s death would be the “gun’s” fault.
However, during his initial police interrogation, Garcia Zarate admitted to intentionally firing the gun, stating he was aiming at a seal and the bullet ricocheted off the concrete pier.
At one time during the interrogation, Garcia Zarate also claimed that he stepped on the gun and it fired. Don’t forget , gun powder residue was found on his righthand.
Was the jury’s verdict another tragic accident? I do not believe so. I think this is yet another example of anti-gunners ready to blame the gun instead of the individual. Therefore, they picked the version that allowed the gun to be the guilty party. After all, Garcia Zarate’s story was changed on multiple occasions to fit the necessary narrative required to negate the small, but key element to the crime—negligent discharge.
Perhaps the bigger lesson here is another example of those who walk among us—those who would do us harm, either by intent or through some sort of negligence. That is why we carry, why we are armed 24/7, why we carry an individual first aid kit (IFAK), why we train, and we must constantly remain aware of our surroundings.
In the end, regardless of the circumstance, there is a large segment of the country that would still rather blame the gun than the person holding it. The jury in San Francisco is just another example of how far some are willing to go to overlook the facts that point to the person, when the gun can be blamed.
Was there justice for Kate Steinle? How about Garcia Zarate? Was the gun to blame? Share your answers in the comment section.
Sign up for our weekly newsletter and discounts here.