Metro law enforcement officials have been looking for a cure to Tennessee’s weak gun laws since April, pushing for legislation that would increase jail time for gun crimes.
Now they have a possible remedy.
Beginning on Tuesday, the state’s “Crooks with Guns” law will take effect — one that imposes mandatory minimum sentences without parole for individuals who use firearms to commit felonies, individuals who are in possession of guns while committing felonies or prior felons who are found in possession of illegal weapons.
“We pushed hard with the Legislature last session to try to put some real teeth with laser-like focus on prison sentencing for dangerous, repeat, violent offenders,” said Metro Police Chief Ronal Serpas.
“‘Crooks with Guns’ we believe is the fist step toward holding those people who refuse rehabilitation efforts and who choose to make you their victim as their life’s choice, to keep them in prison longer,” he said.
According to the legislation, on Jan. 1 anyone employing a firearm during the commission of a felony will face a charge punishable by “the service of 10 years in the penitentiary at 100 percent,” meaning the defendant shall be required to serve the entire sentence and the sentence shall not be reduced for any reason.
Before the legislation was in place, according to Serpas, a defendant needed only to fulfill 30 percent of a prison sentence before getting the possibility of parole.
“We think [the bill] is going to help make Nashville a safer place by taking those repeat violent offenders and giving them real prison sentences instead of rolling them back out too quickly,” the chief added.
In Nashville in 2006, 695 arrests were made on suspects for the use of firearms in the commission of a felony, a 7.4 percent increase from 647 in 2005, according to statistics provided by the Tennessee Public Safety Coalition.
The coalition, a statewide group consisting of police chiefs, district attorneys and sheriffs, pushed hard for the legislation with help from the bill’s sponsor, Senate Republican Leader Mark Norris (R-Collierville).
The legislation does have a price tag however. It is estimated the cost of the new law — due to increased incarceration time for inmates — will be just short of $24 million.
But it’s a price that Norris earlier this year said was worth it.
“The notion that we need to shy away from legislation like this because of the projected cost, really rings hollow because, in fact, if we’re successful at giving law enforcement the tools they need to do their job, their job will become simpler, and there’ll be less people incarcerated,” Norris said in March.
The total number of reported offenses involving guns in Tennessee is rising, according to statistics from the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation — jumping from 17,450 statewide in 2003 to 18,662 in 2005.