Criminal Justice

He Was Sentenced to a Decade in Prison for Having Unlicensed Weapons

Dexter Taylor is now a "violent felon," even though his hobby was victimless.


A New York City man on Monday was sentenced to a decade in prison after a jury convicted him of a slew of violent felonies. Most intriguing, though, is that there were no victims because there was no violence.

Dexter Taylor, 53, was arrested in 2022 after police raided his home and found several firearms without the state-required licenses. Taylor, who works as a software engineer, had taken an interest in weapons science and started building "ghost guns"—essentially firearms made by nontraditional manufacturers. Despite Taylor's hobby being victimless, Brooklyn District Attorney Eric Gonzalez brought a 37-count indictment against him.

"By assembling guns from kits, unfinished parts, or 3D printed components, those who possess ghost guns evade critically important background checks and registration requirements, and because they have no serial number they are untraceable," he said in a press release at the time. "The surge in ghost guns in our neighborhoods is a major contributor to the violence plaguing our communities and my Office is working tirelessly to stop their proliferation in Brooklyn."

It's difficult to know whether or not the latter claim—that ghost guns are at the root of Brooklyn's gun violence—is true. Beyond dispute, however, is that Taylor did not contribute to those statistics because he didn't harm anyone. Nevertheless, a jury convicted him of two counts of second-degree criminal possession of a weapon; three counts of third-degree criminal possession of a weapon; five counts of criminal possession of a firearm; unlawful possession of pistol ammunition; and violating the prohibition on unfinished frames or receivers. Many of those charges are violent felonies under New York law, even though they're essentially paperwork violations.

Especially ironic is that Gonzalez promised to lead "the most progressive D.A.'s office in the country." Ensuring that a man serves substantial prison time for crimes that hurt no one does not strike me as particularly progressive. The decadelong sentence should "send a message to anyone who, like this defendant, would try to evade critically important background checks and registration requirements to manufacture and stockpile these dangerous weapons," said Gonzalez on Monday. 

It certainly sends a message, although not the one Gonzalez thinks it does. It tells people in New York that their judiciary may be more preoccupied with performative prosecution than actually keeping their communities safe.

Perusing Gonzalez's other recent wins is instructive. They include securing a seven-year sentence for a man who repeatedly sexually assaulted a young girl, a three-to-nine-year sentence for a man convicted of second-degree manslaughter, and a three-and-a-half-to-seven-year sentence for a woman who stole almost $1 million from nine people. All of those crimes had victims. And yet all of the perpetrators will still spend significantly less time in prison than Taylor will.

This isn't a novel case. In November, LaShawn Craig, another Brooklynite, fired his gun in self-defense after entering his apartment and finding another man inside. While prosecutors deemed it a justified shooting, they brought several weapons charges against him because the gun he used to protect himself was not licensed by the state. In June, over in Queens, Charles Foehner shot and killed a man who was attempting to mug him. Law enforcement agreed that shooting was also in self-defense. And then they brought so many weapons charges against him that, if convicted on all of them, he would die in prison—far more time behind bars than his assailant would have received if he'd lived.