Thursday, August 10, 2023

Tennessee stiffened the penalty for stealing a gun. Amid a theft crisis, is the law working?

by Kelly Puente, The Tennessean, Aug. 10, 2023- 

Key Points 
  • Attorneys say a law passed in 2021 stiffening the penalty for gun theft is actually making cases
    harder to prosecute.
  • Nashville last year saw a record 1,378 stolen guns from cars.
  • Lawmakers are hoping to pass a bill that would address the problem, but Gov. Bill Lee is blocking any plan that would penalize people for leaving guns in cars.
.... In a push to deter criminals, the state in 2021 passed a law strengthening the penalty for stealing a gun from a misdemeanor to a Class E felony with a mandatory minimum sentence of six months in jail. ... it’s a tough crime to prove. A stolen gun can change hands multiple times before it’s recovered, and witnesses and the gun owners can be hard to track down or reluctant to testify.

Under the new penalty, defense attorneys have little bargaining room with the six month mandatory jail time and are less likely to settle a case. As a result, most felony gun theft charges are dropped.

The Tennessean reviewed more than a 100 Davidson County court cases from 2022 through May 2023, after the law went into effect, and found that the vast majority of gun theft charges were eventually dropped or dismissed, mostly due to lack of proof and witnesses.

In most cases, defendants will end up being convicted on other criminal charges since most of them are committing other crimes along with the gun theft. 

But the dropped charges show how a law that was meant to bring change in reality does little once it hits the court system, said David Raybin, a longtime local criminal defense lawyer.

“The dynamic has changed because now the sanction is so severe on a mandatory minimum case that’s already very hard to prove,” he said. “It’s the same philosophy that if we make the penalties harder it’s going to end the crime, and that’s absurd.” ...

Lee is proposing doing away with taxes on firearm safes and safety devices, providing free gun locks, expanding safe storage training in state-approved safety courses and launching a safe-storage public service campaign.

But the perimeters Lee set for the special session on Wednesday specifically prevent lawmakers from passing any penalties for those who fail to safely store their firearms.

... Nashville looks to be on track for another record year, with more than 700 guns stolen from cars so far this year, marking 80% of all stolen firearms.

Stumble Upon Toolbar
My Zimbio
Top Stories

No comments:

Post a Comment