Norris leads passage of “felons with firearms” bill to curb gun violence through Senate Finance Committee

(NASHVILLE, TN), March 13, 2012 —  Senate Majority Leader Mark Norris (R-Collierville) led passage of two key bills through the Senate Finance Committee today.  One bill would enact tougher sentences for gun possession by those with prior violent felony convictions, while the other would enhance penalties for certain crimes committed by gangs. 

Norris sponsored a series of anti-crime laws dubbed “Crooks with Guns” passed in recent years designed to curb gun-related violence and focus resources on keeping these criminals behind bars longer to protect the public.  “This is a continuation of those efforts to give law enforcement authorities stronger tools to curb violence in Tennessee,” he said.

Currently, illegal possession of a firearm for convicted violent felons is punishable as a Class E felony which carries a 1 to 6-year sentence and up to $3,000 in fines.  Senate Bill 2250 would increase the offense to a Class C felony, which is punishable by a 3 to 15-year sentence and up to $10,000 in fines for convicted felons carrying a firearm whose crime involved the use of force, violence, or a deadly weapon.  The punishment would be a Class D felony for felons whose conviction involved a drug offense.

Tennessee Department of Safety and Homeland Security Commissioner Bill Gibbons told members of the Senate Finance Committee that over the last 10 years, approximately 19,000 people arrested in Memphis possessed a firearm when charged.  About thirty percent of those arrested had been previously convicted.  He said the scope of the problem was increased by a rise in drug trafficking and gang activity.  Gibbons said the proliferation of crimes involving firearms pointed to the need for a “more effective hammer” to deter felons from going armed.

The second measure, Senate Bill 2252, would enhance penalties for certain gang-related crimes committed by groups of three or more people one classification higher than if they had acted alone.  The bill covers crimes not included in the previous Crooks with Guns legislation. 

“A person robbed or assaulted by more than one assailant has a much greater chance of suffering severe injury or death,” said Senator Norris.  “This bill would keep them behind bars longer by bumping up penalties by one classification for aggravated assault, robbery, or aggravated burglary, if the crime is committed in concert with two or more persons.”

“We have made a lot of progress in the last couple of years addressing the problem of violent crime in our state,” said Commissioner Gibbons.  “You passed Crooks with Guns 1 and then Crooks with Guns 2, which addressed certain types of violent crimes and provided enhanced sentences for those if the offender was carrying a gun.  You also passed some very important legislation dealing with aggravated robbery, upping the percentage that an individual has to serve before being eligible for parole.  This bill addresses certain types of serious crimes not covered by that previous legislation.”

Norris said both bills were part of a package of public safety bills included in Governor Bill Haslam’s legislative agenda.  The bills were recommended by a Public Safety Subcabinet Working Group composed of more than 10 government agencies which held meetings with over 300 leaders in law enforcement, substance abuse, and corrections.   The group developed 11 objectives and 40 action steps in their multi-year safety action plan with the goal of significantly reducing drug abuse and drug trafficking; curbing violent crime; and, lowering the rate of repeat offenders in Tennessee.  

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