Legislation Stiffens Penalties Against Felons With Firearms

The Senate Judiciary Committee approved major legislation sponsored by Senate Majority Leader Mark Norris (R-Collierville) yesterday to enact tougher sentences for violent felons in possession of firearms. The legislation continues Norris’ series of anti-crime laws dubbed “Crooks with Guns” passed over the last decade to curb gun-related violence and focus resources on keeping violent criminals behind bars longer to protect the public.

Senate Bill 1241, which is supported by the District Attorneys General Conference, the Memphis Shelby Crime Commission and the City of Memphis, follows recent reports that convicted felons illegally in possession of firearms have increased from 13 to 17 percent over the past three years.

“The proliferation of crimes involving firearms points to the need for a more effective hammer to deter felons from going armed,” said Sen. Norris. “This legislation continues our efforts to give law enforcement authorities stronger tools to curb violent crime in Tennessee.”

Currently, possession of a firearm by a felon previously convicted for an offense involving the use or attempted use of force is punishable as a Class C felony, with sentences averaging 3.51 years. The legislation would increase the offense to a Class B felony, almost doubling the average time spent in jail to 6.31 years. Likewise, the legislation enhances penalties for possession of a firearm by a person with a prior felony drug conviction. The proposal elevates the crime from a Class D to a Class C felony, adding 1.28 years to the current average sentence of 2.23 years.

The bill also prohibits probation for possession of a firearm by a person with a prior felony conviction involving the use or attempted use of force.

The penalties are more in line with sentences imposed at the federal level involving gun possession by convicted felons.

“This enables the state system to do a better job of holding these individuals with prior violent crime and drug trafficking convictions more accountable under state law,” said Bill Gibbons, Executive Director of the Public Safety Institute at the University of Memphis and President of the Memphis Shelby Crime Commission. “But, also, it will help change behavior and maybe get some of these people to pause and think a little bit about their behavior and start making some good choices instead of bad choices.”

Gibbons was joined by Shelby County District Attorney General Amy Weirich and District Attorney General Mike Dunavant who also testified in support of the bill.

The legislation now goes to the Senate Finance, Ways and Means Committee for consideration of the proposal’s fiscal impact.

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