(NASHVILLE, TN) – Three bills which aim to reduce violent crime in Tennessee were signed by Governor Bill Haslam today at the Bartlett Criminal Justice Center. The ceremony marked the July 1 enactment of the new laws sponsored by Senate Majority Leader Mark Norris (R-Collierville). Two of the bills crack down on gang violence by enacting tougher sentences for gun possession by offenders with prior violent felony convictions and enhancing penalties for certain crimes committed by gangs. The third bill, called the “Repeat Domestic Violence Offender law,” prescribes mandatory jail time and stiffer fines for repeat offenders.
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. Norris serves on the Memphis Shelby County Crime Commission. Under Operation Safe Community, these initiatives are part of the agenda which recently resulted in a 22% decrease in major violent crime and 25% decrease in major property crime. “This is a continuation of those efforts to give law enforcement authorities stronger tools to curb violence in Tennessee,” he said.
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. The scope of the problem has increased due to a rise in drug trafficking and gang activity. The proliferation of crimes involving firearms pointed to the need for a “more effective hammer” to deter felons from going armed Norris said.
Following is a brief summary of the new laws:
Felons with Firearms — The new law increases penalties for illegal possession of a firearm by a convicted felon from a Class E felony to a Class C felony, which is punishable by a 3 to 15-year sentence and up to $10,000 in fines if the crime involved the use of force, violence or a deadly weapon. The punishment is a Class D felony, under the new law, for felons whose conviction involve a drug offense.
Enhancing Penalties for Gang Violence – The new law bumps up penalties by one classification in Tennessee if “a crime of force or violence is committed while acting in concert with two or more other persons.” The measure addresses certain types of serious crimes not covered by the state’s current “Crooks with Guns” law, including aggravated assault, robbery, or aggravated burglary, if the crime is committed in concert with two or more persons.
Repeat Domestic Violence Offender Law – The new law provides at least 30 days in jail and a fine ranging from $350 to $3,500 for those convicted of a second offense for domestic violence when bodily injury occurs. Upon a third or a subsequent conviction, the mandatory jail time would increase to 90 days and a fine ranging from $1,000 to $5,000. In counting prior convictions, the new law provides for a ten-year look back provision for domestic violence due to serious bodily injury similar to the one used in the state’s drunk driving law.
“Tennessee is ranked second in the nation in domestic violence and is fifth in the number of women murdered by men as a result of domestic violence,” added Senator Norris. “We must turn the tide on domestic violence in Tennessee. This new law represents a large step forward in that effort.”
Norris said all three of the new laws 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 headed by Department of Safety and Homeland Security Commissioner Bill Gibbons, which was composed of more than 10 government agencies. The group held meetings with over 300 leaders in law enforcement, substance abuse, and corrections. They 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.