Lower sentences for gun criminals?

The recent massacre in Las Vegas that claimed the lives of at least 59 people has again rekindled an emotional conversation on gun control. As a mother and grandmother, I grieve for those killed and pray for the recovery of the wounded. I share an interest in reducing gun violence as such violence has no place in our society.

While people may disagree on the meaning of the Second Amendment, all Americans should be able to agree that any criminal who uses a gun to terrorize individuals, families or communities deserves the maximum sentence available. Given that the California Legislature has approved some of the nation’s most restrictive gun control laws in recent years, you would think that it would be the last place in America where a bill giving gun criminals a chance at receiving a lower sentence would be approved. Think again.

I was very disappointed to learn that the governor recently signed Senate Bill 620, which will allow courts to dismiss penalty enhancements for criminals who use a gun, assault weapon, even a machine gun, while committing or attempting to commit a felony crime.

I was hoping SB 620 would have been vetoed. We are all looking for ways to reduce gun violence, but why pass a law that would potentially give criminals who use guns a break?

Currently, a criminal who personally uses a gun or assault weapon while committing a felony is subject to a penalty enhancement of 3, 4 or 10 years for using a firearm; or 5, 6 or 10 years for using an assault weapon or machine gun. The enhancement is on top of the sentence for committing the felony and is specifically intended to discourage the use of guns or assault weapons in crime.

Allowing elimination of this penalty enhancement will allow criminals who choose to use a gun to commit their crimes and threaten our communities to potentially face lesser punishment. For some criminals, the additional sentence is the only thing keeping them from being eligible for early parole under Proposition 57 (2016), which increased parole and good behavior opportunities for some felons.

To be fair, SB 620’s author has stated that felons are already facing long sentences for the crimes they committed and adding a penalty for choosing to use a gun to commit those crimes is merely making a long sentence longer. He believes that longer sentences are not a deterrent to crime.

However, using a gun to shoot or threaten people while committing a felony is a very serious matter. It should be treated as such.

It was odd to see a very progressive Legislature passing SB 620 this year. The Legislature has approved multiple laws in recent years restricting or banning how and what firearms law-abiding citizens may own. The authors of such laws say it is about keeping guns out of the hands of dangerous criminals. Yet there is now a new law that allows elimination of the enhancement penalty when dangerous criminals use guns to commit their felonies. Don’t we want to make criminals think twice about using a gun to threaten people?

SB 620 may cause harm to public safety. It is unclear why California would want to provide its judges with the option of removing the penalty enhancement of using a firearm during the commission of a violent crime. It is partly why the California District Attorneys Association and California State Sheriffs’ Association came out in opposition.

In my view, the state took a step backwards in its efforts to reduce gun violence. Lesser penalties for gun criminals are not something you would expect from a state that prides itself on being anti-gun.

Patricia Bates, R-Laguna Niguel, represents the 36th Senate District in the California Legislature, which covers northern San Diego and southern Orange counties. She is the Senate’s Republican Leader.

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