The Coastal Post - February, 1998

Locking Up Gun Abusers

California Attorney General Dan Lungren

Beginning January 1, a new California law will give prosecutors a new tool to keep gun-toting criminals off the streets and in prison. This new law, called "10-20-Life," adds additional prison time to the sentence felons face when they use a gun in the commission of most felonies.

"10-20-Life" imposes an additional 10 years for carrying a gun, 20 years for firing the weapon, and 25 years to life in prison for badly injuring someone with a gun while committing a serious or violent felony-such as rape, kidnapping, murder or robbery.

Consider this: a gun-wielding thug enters a convenience store, brandishes a gun and threatens the lives of the owner and customers as he robs the business. Under current law, the felon would face as little as four years in prison-three for robbery and one for using the gun. Under "10-20-Life," the criminal would receive an extra 10 years for the weapon alone.

This is, quite simply, the toughest gun-abuse control measure in the nation. Just like "Three Strikes," it places our priorities where they ought to be: protection for law-abiding citizens and an uncompromising response to the most violent offenders in our society.

Nearly 72 percent of the homicides in 1996 were committed with a firearm-a percentage that, thankfully, has decreased as the crime rate has dropped. However, the statistics corroborate the all-too-horrifying truth that guns are the weapon of choice for murders and other serious criminals.

It is this predilection that "10-20-Life" targets. The law has a very specific, very targeted message: use a gun, go to prison-for a long time.

While this new law will do more to curb criminal gun violence than any other proposal even contemplated by the Legislature last year, it is not as tough as originally drafted. In order to appease liberal Democrats in the State Senate led by Senator Bill Lockyer, two very serious crimes were eliminated from the list of felonies that warrant additional time in prison when criminals use a gun: manslaughter and residential burglary.

If our goal is to protect people from violence, it is illogical that we would implement a law that sends such a strong message to criminals, yet leaves out two serious crimes. If there is one place people deserve to feel safe, it's home. But, sadly, more than 62 percent of all California burglaries in 1996 occurred in people's homes. That means people not only had their privacy invaded, they had their lives and the lives of their families endangered.

According to Senator Lockyer's office and staff analyses of the bill, Senate Democrats were critical of the cost involved in lengthier prison sentences. They targeted residential burglary because the high incidence of home burglaries (194,322 in 1996) would require an expansion of the prisons to house all the gun-packing burglars we would have to keep in jail longer. That logic suggests we should throw out the California Penal Code so we wouldn't have to build any prisons in the first place.

We intend to challenge the faulty reasoning employed by Senator Lockyer and some of his colleagues in the Senate with another bill next year that imposes penalties against criminals who use a gun in the commission of manslaughter and residential burglary. We already are working to draft such a bill with Assemblyman Tom Bordonaro (R-Paso Robles) who authored "10-20-Life."

The debate over gun control is emotional and wide-ranging, with dedicated activists on both sides of the issue. But, one principle has near unanimous support-criminals who use guns to commit felonies should pay dearly. So, we're targeting the perpetrators of violent acts with a very direct message: use a gun during the commission of a crime and you'll walk the halls of a cell block instead of the streets of California.

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