Editorial: ‘Crooks with guns’ law will have impact

On January 12, 2010, in News 2010, by Mark Norris

January 12, 2010

Often the group’s measures are considered, but a larger fiscal note for implementation, especially in years of tight budgets, means the proposals of the sheriffs, police chiefs and district attorneys general won’t garner more than polite attention from the state’s 132 lawmakers.

The fiscal notes, of course, have another side – public safety can’t always be measured in dollars and cents.

Fortunately, the coalition has been heard on some issues lately, most importantly the proposal for tougher sentences for persons convicted of using a gun in a violent crime. The measure went into effect on Jan. 1.

The legislation builds on the “crooks with guns” law passed by the Legislature during the 2007 session.

The new legislation adds a minimum of six years to the sentence of a person who has a gun while committing a felony or attempting to escape. Those possessing a firearm while attempting first-degree murder would get the extra time, plus at least three to five more years, depending on whether they have a previous criminal record.

The 2007 legislation made it an additional offense to be armed with a gun when committing felonies: aggravated and especially aggravated kidnapping, burglary, carjacking, voluntary manslaughter and certain crimes involving drugs.

The 2007 law and the measure that became effective this year are serious attempts to address the state’s problem with violent crime. The coalition has said Tennessee ranks second in the nation in the number of violent crimes. About two-thirds of those convicted of such crimes are people who have been rearrested within three years of being released from prison.

Maggi McLean Duncan, executive director of the Tennessee Association of Chiefs of Police, said the new law will benefit the judicial system and law enforcement.

“Re-offenders are responsible for committing a larger percentage of crimes,” she said. “Law enforcement’s goal is to limit the number of victims in our communities and create safe environments for our citizens.”

It might take a few years for the state’s ranking to change, but the new legislation is the best route to that change.

In a related matter, we support Gov. Phil Bredesen in rejecting the release of some 3,000 inmates convicted of nonviolent felonies as a measure to save money. Bredesen rightly pointed out to The Associated Press last week that the proposed release would not have a lasting impact on the state coffers because the spaces being vacated will be filled by state inmates held in county jails and detention centers.

The only way to achieve a permanent savings would involve closing an entire prison, a task he understandably is not willing to do.

Bredesen is working for a budget – his final budget proposal as governor – that will match recurring expenses with recurring revenues. In that budget, the early release of prisoners and the shifting that will occur as a result is not a good choice.


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