The Coastal Post - September, 1997

Consensus On Guns and Crimes?


As a nation, and especially here in California, we have been grappling for years for answers to the gun violence that has plagued our streets. We know that criminal street gangs deal in drugs because it's lucrative. Gang bangers also feel that carrying a gun is unlikely to get them into serious trouble with the law. What most law-abiding citizens do not know, but criminals do, is that actually using a gun in the commission of a crime often only tacks on an additional one-year penalty to the sentence for the underlying crime. While we've toughened some sentences for specific gun-related crimes, that's not much of a deterrent.

As I have traveled the state in my six-plus years as Attorney General, I've been engaged in countless discussions, sometimes debates, on the issue of gun- and crime-control.

On one far side of the spectrum are those who feel that the Constitution's Second Amendment prohibits any restriction on who can buy a gun, or on the kinds of guns that can be legally sold. They argue that you ought to be able to have a bazooka on the hood of your car if you like.

On the other extreme are those who would relegate the Second Amendment to the ash heap of history and ban all gun ownership, period.

Most of us fall somewhere in between these two extremes, as I do. Yet in my experience, almost everyone agrees that those who choose to use guns in committing crimes deserve our most serious attention.

That is the idea behind the "10-20-Life" proposal currently before the California Legislature. Fresno businessman Mike Reynolds, whose loss of daughter Kimber at the hands of a .357-wielding murderer led to enactment of California's enormously effective Three Strikes Law, has again presented lawmakers a simple formula to put real heat on criminals with guns.

The "10-20-Life" measure, Assembly Bill 4 by Assemblyman Tom Boronaro (R-Paso Robles), would automatically add 10 years to the sentence of anyone who uses a gun in the commission of most felonies. If the gun is discharged, 20 extra years are added, and if the criminal injures someone with that gun, an added 25-years-to-life sentence will be tacked onto the base penalty.

This is, quite simply, the toughest gun-abuse control measure in the nation. It places our priorities where they ought to be: squarely on those who commit serious and violent felonies with guns.

A few weeks ago, I joined Mike Reynolds, Assemblyman Bordonaro, law enforcement officials and victims of violent crime at the State Capitol to urge the Senate Public Safety Committee to approve this measure without watering down its strong terms. As I told reporters that day, I was less concerned that the legislature would kill the bill outright; rarely are tough crime bills voted down in the light of day anymore. I was more concerned that the Committee would "do a Tyson" to the bill; that is, take a piece out of the 10-20-Life and leave it less than whole.

Fortunately, the members of the panel passed AB 4 unmolested. It still contains all of its tough provisions. Though the bill still faces hurdles, we are more encouraged than ever that this common-sense attack on gun violence will become law.

Common sense is not lost on even the most violent criminals. As one former gang prosecutor and now judge in Los Angeles County said, "I believe tougher sentences for criminals who use guns will go a long way toward deterring not only the use of, but the possession of, firearms during the commission of serious crimes. This is my idea of gun control-being ruthless against the most violent offenders in our society."

Mike Reynolds understands that simplicity of our crime laws means a better understanding among violence-prone criminals of the consequences of their behavior, should they get caught. It is largely the simplicity of the Three Strikes law that has caused thousands of formerly active felons in California to decide to embark on other, less incapacitating, career paths.

The "10-20-Life" gun violence law will have the same effect. All we need to do is give it a chance to work. And in the process, maybe we'll find that there is at least one very important part of the gun debate upon which we can all agree.

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