Raise penalties for use of gun or gang assault
By Richard Locker, Commercial Appeal
March 14, 2012

NASHVILLE — Two anti-crime bills in Gov. Bill Haslam’s public-safety legislative package won funding approval in the House and Senate Finance committees this week and are headed to final floor votes in both chambers.

One enacts tougher sentences for gun possession by people with prior violent felony convictions, and the other enhances penalties for additional crimes committed by gangs. Funding for both — $4.8 million for the gang-crime measure and $271,000 for the gun bill — are included in the governor’s budget proposal still pending with the legislature.

Senate Majority Leader Mark Norris, R-Collierville, is sponsoring both bills in the Senate, and state Safety Commissioner Bill Gibbons — the former Shelby County district attorney who has worked for both bills for years — testified in favor of them.

Gibbons said that over the last 10 years about 19,000 people arrested in Memphis possessed a firearm, and about 30 percent of them had been previously convicted of felonies. He said the problem increased with a rise in drug trafficking and gang activity, and that a “more effective hammer” to deter felons from going armed is needed.

Currently, illegal possession of a firearm by convicted violent felons is punishable as a Class E felony under Tennessee’s sentencing laws, which carries a one- to six-year sentence and up to $3,000 in fines. Senate Bill 2250 increases the offense to a Class C felony, punishable by a 3- to 15-year sentence and up to $10,000 in fines for convicted felons carrying a firearm whose prior crime involved the use of force, violence, or a deadly weapon. It would be a Class D felony (two- to 12-years and up to $5,000 in fines) for felons whose conviction involved a drug offense.

The second measure, Senate Bill 2252, enhances penalties for aggravated assault, robbery or aggravated burglary committed by groups of three or more people by moving the crime one classification higher than if they had acted alone. It adds the three crimes to a list of offenses whose penalties were enhanced in previous gang-crime laws.

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