House committee passes tougher sentences for gun felons

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INDIANAPOLIS, Ind. (Feb. 24, 2014)– Indianapolis Mayor Greg Ballard told state lawmakers his police department spends too much time picking up gun crime suspects who should already be in jail.

“They should not have to arrest the same gun-toting criminals every three years or so. For criminals, current penalties for using a gun are just the cost of doing business. They are not a punishment or a deterrent.”

Ballard testified for tougher mandatory minimum sentencing for gun felons before the House Court and Criminal Code Committee.

“If you used a gun during the commission of a crime in Indiana you should spend at least a generation behind bars.”

The committee amended Senator Michael Young’s bill to set sentences of 5-20 years for felons convicted of using a gun during a crime.

The bill also boosts the penalties for those who provide guns to felons who are prohibited from owning firearms.

“What we want to try to do is to send a strong message to people who are giving guns to felons that you’re going to be paying the price for your actions,” said Young, an Indianapolis republican who represents the westside of the city where Metro Police Officer Rod Bradway was shot to death by an armed felon last September.

Ballard told the legislators that more than half of all surviving gunshot victims refuse to cooperate with investigators for fear that their attackers will serve only part of their prison sentence.

The mayor recounted two gun felons who were re-arrested last year after serving less than a quarter of their terms.

At the federal level, a gun felon can face up to 25 additional years in prison and likely serve more than 80% of that sentence.

Judge William Nelson of Marion Superior Court disagrees with state-ordered mandates on gun sentences.

“I’m not a big fan of mandatory minimum sentencing. I’m not a big fan of any type of mandate on what the judges can and cannot do. Its up to them. You have to hear each case individually. You have to determine each case on its own facts and that’s exactly what I do.”

Metro Police Chief Rick Hite said sometimes gun offenders need to serve out full sentences to protect them from street retaliation.

“There are some violent offenders quite frankly that have to serve their time because we know that the street element becomes the judge, jury and executioner if they don’t serve their time for long periods of time.”

The legislation now moves on to the full house.