New law would toughen sentences for repeat gun offenders

FOX 32 NEWS - It’s a story we hear from Chicago police time and again: offenders caught with guns are back on the streets because of lax laws or judges who go easy on sentences.

Now, some Illinois lawmakers are proposing a new law that would toughen sentences for repeat gun offenders, and force judges to explain if they give a light sentence.

As many times as we've heard them, the numbers are still staggering: 4331 people shot in Chicago in 2016, 762 homicides, and 83-hundred illegal guns seized by Chicago police.

"I'm asking our state legislators and the citizens of Illinois to give me the tools necessary to keep our streets safe,” said Supt. Eddie Johnson.

"There's been a belief among law enforcement that too many repeat gun offenders cycle through the system too quickly,” said State Rep. Michael Zalewski.

Zalewski and State Senator Kwame Raoul are working together on a new bill that would dramatically change the way felons caught with a gun are sentenced.

"This is someone who's been previously convicted, goes out and illegally obtains another gun and hits the street with it,” Raoul said.

Under current law, second time gun offenders can be sentenced anywhere from three to 14 years. The proposed law would require judges to sentence at the higher end of that range, at least six years, and if they deviate below that number, the judge must explain their decision in writing.

"I think it makes them take their time with these sentences and not just go through the rote motions of making sure the boxes are checked. We want to make sure they give a little thought to the defendant's individual disposition,” Zalewski said.

In 2013, the ACLU opposed similar legislation, saying it overly criminalized the simple act of carrying--but not using--a gun and that it would overburden Illinois’' already bulging prison population.
     
"Pushing a maximum range is something we don't do for violent crime, much less a non-violent possession offense,” said Stephanie Kollmann of Children and Family Justice Center.

Attorney Stephanie Kollmann says Illinois has already raised the gun possession penalties six times in the past eleven years.

However…

"A state agency review of the effect of that found there was no public safety benefit,” Kollmann said.

But the bill's authors say it does more than just increase penalties. It also provides for programs and rehabilitation aimed at changing the behavior of those caught with guns.

"There's no single piece of legislation that's going to stop the violence in Chicago. We're not putting this out as a cure-all to the violence in Chicago. But we believe it's a component of it,” Raoul said.

Zalewski and Raoul say they believe they have broad support for their legislation, which is still being tweaked and should come up for a vote in the current legislative session.
     
The problem of repeat gun offenses is also compounded by the fact that the Chicago police clearance rate for solving shootings is less than five percent.

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