April 30, 2013
LIMA — Local crime fighters applauded proposed legislation offered Monday by Ohio’s attorney general to double prison terms for repeat violent offenders who use guns to commit crimes.
“I think it’s a more sensible approaching to curbing gun violence when you actually enhance penalties for people who actually are committing crimes rather than punish honest, law-abiding citizens for owning guns,” Allen County Prosecutor Juergen Waldick said.
Ohio Attorney General Mike DeWine said the legislation takes aim at reducing gun crimes by targeting the criminals who commit the crimes.
“We don’t want to take guns away from law-abiding citizens; instead we want to take the violent offenders away from the guns,” DeWine said.
Lima Police Maj. Tony Swygart said the legislation is targeting the problem, unlike legislation proposed on the federal level that took aim at a type of gun or affected law-abiding citizens.
“From what I’ve seen, I think it makes sense, Swygart said. "Criminal control versus gun control."
Allen County Sheriff Sam Crish said doubling prison sentences for violent offenders will reduce crime, the number of victims created and the number of families destroyed.
“It won’t give them more opportunities to injure more people,” Crish said.
Crish also said the legislation avoids playing politics with the gun control debate and puts the blame on the criminals who commit the gun crimes.
“You certainly don’t want to punish law-abiding citizens,” he said.
The legislation, dubbed the Violent Career Criminal Act, will be introduced by Ohio Sen. Jim Hughes, a Columbus Republican. It will take existing penalties and double those for repeat violent offenders who use a gun in another crime. A person with a previous gun crime conviction who commits another crime with a gun would face up to six years instead of three for using a gun on top of the charging offense, Ohio Attorney General spokeswoman Jill Del Greco said.
The range on gun specifications currently is one to seven years mandatory time. Seven years is the most severe penalty, reserved for someone who shoots or tries to shoot a police or correctional officer, she said.
Another part of the proposed legislation targets felons who are not allowed to have a gun once they have the felony conviction. Under the charge of having a weapon under a court sanction, criminals face one to five years. The new proposal is for a mandatory 11 years prison sentence for anyone with two violent felony convictions, Del Greco said.
“These people aren’t supposed to have guns in the first place. Maybe a longer prison sentence will be a deterrent,” she said.
The legislation, two years in the works, is the result of a comprehensive study of records from the state prison system and the Ohio Bureau of Criminal Identification and Investigation. The study showed between 1974 and 2010, less than one percent of the state’s adult population accounts for 57 percent of people with two violent felony convictions.
“There is a handful of people committing the majority of violent crimes,” DeWine said.
DeWine said he wanted to get to the root of the problem when he formed the Violent Crimes with Guns Advisory Group in 2011. He said mandatory background checks proposed on the federal level are not part of this plan.
“When you talk about reaching a solution to a problem, you have to start with the facts,” he said.
During his 27 years on the department, Swygart has noticed a small group of people repeatedly committing the majority of crimes. Laws that put those people in prison where they cannot harm additional people are the right approach, he said.
“I still see people today, 27 years later, who were actively violent offenders in the early part of my career,” Swygart said.
Waldick said the legislation sounds good but only will work if the state prison system has room for convicts and does not let them out early.
“As long as there’s the resources to actually keep them in prison, it’s good,” Waldick said.
Del Greco said the proposed penalties are mandatory. If they are passed, the offenders would not be eligible for early release.
DeWine said the legislation really could make a difference in urban areas where most violent crime occurs. He said 56 percent of Ohio's violent felony convictions occur in the counties that are home to Cleveland, Cincinnati, Akron and Columbus.