VOL. 116 | NO. 46 | Thursday, March 7, 2002
DA office and feds join to crackdown on illegal guns
DA, federal prosecutors
crackdown on firearms
By SUE PEASE
The Daily News
"Gun Crime IS Jail Time" was the message announced by federal and local prosecutors at a press conference in the Criminal Justice Center auditorium Wednesday.
U.S. Attorney Terry Harris and District Attorney General Bill Gibbons, along with other local officials, gathered to announce the new, coordinated approach by local and federal offices to crack down on illegal gun possession, in hopes of drastically reducing violent crimes in Shelby County.
While there is pending legislation at the state level aimed at strengthening laws regarding illegal gun possession, with the new approach, prosecutors "dont have to wait until the General Assembly changes the law," Gibbons said. With the two offices teaming up to process cases, anyone who possesses an illegal firearm, "will spend time in jail."
The DAs office and the U.S. Attorneys office will review charges involving illegal firearms stemming from arrests made by the Memphis Police Department, the Shelby County Sheriffs Office as well as other cities police departments and the Tennessee Highway Patrol.
The federal department will prosecute all cases involving illegal firearms involving possession by convicted felons, possession of prohibited weapons and gun possession on or near school property.
In other cases, defendants will have the opportunity to plead guilty in state court to greater than mandatory jail time, unless the case involves multiple violent or drug-trafficking felonies. Those who dont take the offer would face federal prosecution and potentially longer sentences.
"It will be a take-it or leave-it offer," Gibbons said.
"The days of getting probation are over. Its that simple."
The coordinated effort began in mid-January. State and federal offices have screened every arrest ticket and misdemeanor citation in Shelby County where a firearm seizure was involved.
In sharing the caseload up to this point, about 75 percent of the cases are going through the federal system and 25 percent to the local office, Harris said. Since Jan. 1, 102 federal firearms cases were opened.
The coordinated effort is not a new idea, but modeled after one in Richmond, Va., Harris said, called Project Exile.
During a four-year period of the project, the homicide rate in Richmond went from 160 a year to 69, he said.
"That one statistic alone is enough reason to do this here locally," Harris said.
While convicted criminals carrying a gun will get longer sentences, the new effort is designed to change the habits of criminals.
"Changing the habits of criminals to reduce the number of illegal guns carried in our community will prevent crimes of spontaneous violence that occur merely because a gun is present."
A marketing campaign promoting the new approach was unveiled at the conference. Prosecutors hope to get the word out to the street level.
The campaign was designed by Conaway Brown in partnership with Trust Marketing and the slogan of "Gun Crime IS Jail Time," will be incorporated in print ads, billboards and radio and television PSAs.
The campaign is being funded through private donations and got a boost Wednesday with a $50,000 donation from the county sheriffs office. The money came from seizures made in drug cases.
In 2000, there were 152 homicides in Memphis of which 116, or 76 percent, of those involved a firearm, said Memphis Mayor Willie W. Herenton. In 2001, the number inched up to 156 homicides with 106, or 68 percent, involving a firearm.
To critics who would say the crackdown targets minorities, Herenton said he would remind them a high proportion of homicides in the city are black-on-black crimes.
"The victims are disproportionately African American," he said.