‘Gilbert Goons’ use of weapons could lead to reform

gilbert goons

Scrrenshots of videos posted on social media of East Valley teens posing with brass knuckes and guns.

By Camaron Stevenson

January 26, 2024

In the past two months, Gilbert has gone from being known as “the second-safest city in America” to home of the Gilbert Goons, a violent gang made up of rich, mostly white, teenagers who have been terrorizing their peers throughout the East Valley and have allegedly committed at least one murder.

Youth violence in Phoenix’s eastern suburbs is nothing new—in the 90s and early 2000s, a white supremacist group known as the Devil Dogs terrorized Gilbert, going so far as to beat one individual so badly they required reconstructive surgery.

But the recent string of violence, first uncovered by The Arizona Republic reporters Robert Anglen and Elena Santa Cruz, has included not only violent beatings by the Goons, but also the alleged killing of Queen Creek teen Preston Lord. Witnesses were slow to come forward initially, often citing fear of retaliation for speaking out.

Pleading for reform

Families of the gang’s victims have called on state lawmakers to enact a ban on brass knuckles, a favored weapon of the Goons, but no legislation has been formally proposed. A bill has been submitted, however, that would restrict teen access to another weapon proudly displayed by members of the Goons: guns.

In addition to displays of force through physical violence, members of the Goons have been very vocal in their capacity for violence, posting videos on TikTok and other social platforms where they are proudly brandishing handguns and high-powered rifles.

“We know that some of those kids have widely been identified by their peers, but they’ve been reluctant to come forward,” said Rep. Laura Terech, D-Scottsdale. “If I see a picture of one of my classmates with an assault weapon or a handgun, I would probably be less likely to to stand up and speak up about that.”

Restricting access to firearms

House Bill 2233, known as Christian’s Law, has been introduced by Rep. Jen Longdon, D-Phoenix, for several years. If passed, HB 2233 would require gun owners to store their firearms securely, so only someone with a key or lock combination could use them. There is currently no law in Arizona regarding storage of firearms of any kind.

Though supported by Longdon’s Democratic colleagues, like Terech and Chandler Rep. Jennifer Pawlik—who both represent districts impacted by teen violence—Christian’s Law has been ignored by Republicans who control the state legislature.

That includes other state representatives that serve the East Valley, like Gilbert Republican Rep. Laurin Hendrix. Hendrix, who previously served on the Gilbert Town Council, told The Copper Courier that, while he is acutely aware of the violence in his district, he doesn’t think reducing access to guns would do anything to curb aggression or victim intimidation.

“Any kind of violence, and the gun control groups always want to blame the weapon,” Hendrix said. “As far as this Gilbert problem, there hasn’t been any problem that I’m aware of that had any involvement with guns. I mean, somebody standing in the living room with a gun is not a violation of the law.”

‘The weapons effect’

Studies on gun violence have discovered what has been dubbed, “the weapons effect,” where the mere presence of a gun leads to increased aggression. Even if guns aren’t being fired, an individual or group that physically has firearms is psychologically more likely to exhibit aggressive behavior. Similarly, if an individual sees an image of someone else wielding a gun, they perceive the weapons-holder to be more aggressive and capable of violence.

 

While no shootings have been tied to the Goons, their victims and classmates have been made aware of their access to firearms—despite many of those in possession of weapons being too young to own one personally. With Christian’s Law in place, access to weapons would be severely restricted, potentially calming the atmosphere of aggression—and in turn, reducing the number of violent acts.

So far, at least 12 arrests by various law enforcement agencies have been made, two of which have been minors. Charges range from aggravated robbery to aggravated assault with a deadly weapon, and local prosecutors are reviewing evidence that could lead to charging the group as a criminal street gang. Queen Creek Police are currently seeking criminal charges against seven individuals—minors and adults—in relation to Lord’s murder.

“That’s why smart storage laws are so vital,” Terech said “Just like you have a fence around your pool, you need to ensure that you have if you have something like this at home, it’s kept away from young people for a wide variety of reasons—not only safety, but in unfortunate situations like this, awful things are happening with these high-caliber guns.”

Author

  • Camaron Stevenson

    Camaron is the Founding Editor and Chief Political Correspondent for The Copper Courier, and has worked as a journalist in Phoenix for over a decade. He also teaches multimedia journalism at the Walter Cronkite School of Journalism and Mass Communication at Arizona State University.

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