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Higher gun penalties pushed in Memphis

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Higher gun penalties pushed

Hiking burden for repeat offenders and unpermitted firearm carriers is subject of vote

By Alex Doniach (Contact), Memphis Commercial Appeal

Monday, February 23, 2009


While the state legislature is pushing bills that would relax some gun laws, Shelby County Mayor A C Wharton and county commissioners are championing a pair of proposed laws that would boost penalties for repeat offenders and people who carry guns without permits.


Commissioners will vote today on two crime-fighting proposals, one from Wharton that would make it a felony instead of a misdemeanor for first-time offenders who are caught illegally carrying guns.


The second, sponsored by Commissioner Mike Ritz, would enhance sentencing for repeat felony and misdemeanor offenders. It is not specifically related to gun crimes and would basically require more mandatory prison time for repeat criminals.


Both county proposals, which would require the approval of state lawmakers, are intended to help the community crack down on crime.


Yet, if approved by commissioners Monday, both bills will be sent to Nashville in the midst of a passionate debate about gun rights for permit-holders, exacerbated by The Commercial Appeal's decision to post a searchable database of permit holders on its Web site.


In recent weeks, the Republican-controlled legislature has filed a bundle of new bills that would loosen certain gun laws by allowing them in state and local parks, restaurants serving alcohol and even schools and also to limit public access to lists of gun-carry permit holders.


While both county proposals are completely unrelated to the state's efforts to amend gun laws, state Sen. Jim Kyle, D-Memphis, said it's hard to gauge how the county's proposed legislation will be received by state lawmakers in this climate.


"If the bill is categorized a gun control bill, it's dead on arrival," he said.


Wharton has made it clear that his proposal is not intended to control gun use for permit holders. Instead, its purpose is to punish people who carry guns without permits by making it a felony instead of a misdemeanor.


Kyle said Wharton's proposal may actually receive broad support from gun-rights advocates because it enhances the value of gun permits. "You would think those with permits would like that law," he said.


But Commissioner Wyatt Bunker, a gun-permit holder, expressed concern last week that Wharton's proposal may have the unintended consequence of punishing those who are too old or too poor to pay for a course and apply for a gun permit.


"The reality of it is that some of these tests, they scare people, and they can't pass them," Bunker said. "We take away their right to bear arms or defend themselves if we put these stipulations on them."


Meanwhile, Commissioner Sidney Chism said last week that he was hesitant to favor legislation that adds to overfilled prison populations. Instead, he stressed the need for education and rehabilitation for offenders.




Again the Commercial Appeal uses a story to get the word out about the searchable data base that it is put online.

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