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Repeat gun offenders could face mandatory 11-year prison term

New tough-on-crime legislation would mandate an 11-year sentence for those convicted of illegally possessing a gun, if they previously had been convicted of two or more violent felonies.

The bill, which has the backing of Ohio Attorney General Mike DeWine, will be introduced Friday by state Sen. Jim Hughes, R-Columbus. It would create a “violent career criminal” definition and would also step up penalties for offenders previously convicted of a crime involving a gun.

DeWine said at a press conference Monday that the stiffer penalties would help get “the worst of the worst” off the streets.

The bill would take discretion away from judges who hear the cases.

“We, in general, discourage taking discretion away from the judges. A judge’s role is to fashion a sentence that best suits the offense and the offender,” said Mark Schweikert, executive director of the Ohio Judicial Conference. “I understand the interest in being tough on crime … They are pre-judging the offense.”

Currently, a felon convicted of illegally possessing a gun faces one to five years in prison.

Research shows that a small segment of Ohio’s adult population accounts for most of the violent crime, DeWine said.

Data show that 80,274 offenders have been convicted of two or more violent felony crimes between 1974 and 2010, according to a research report by Ohio State University Associate Professor Deanna Wilkinson. Of them, 31,278 have three or more violent convictions and 15,262 offenders have been convicted of four or more violent crimes.

Twelve counties — including Montgomery, Clark, Butler and Hamilton — account for 83 percent of the violent felony convictions statewide, Wilkinson reported.

Montgomery County Sheriff Phil Plummer said it’s good legislation targeted at violent trouble makers.

“You know, third time if they can’t figure it out by the third time, they need to be held accountable for their actions. I think it’s fair. We have 50,000 beds in our prison system and we just have to determine who we are going to put in those beds,” Plummer said.

If it becomes law, it would be a step away from legislators’ recent attempts to reform criminal sentencing and trend away from mandatory minimums. DeWine said he supports community sanctions, a gradation of penalties and other changes but insists that locking up violent predators is key to curbing serious crime.

“I think it’s a moral imperative that we not put up with this,” he said.

DeWine established a working group that focused the last year on violent crimes with guns. The group commissioned Wilkinson to examine state databases with the criminal histories of 2.1 million offenders between 1974 and 2010.

DeWine sidestepped a question about whether requiring universal background checks for gun buyers as a way to try to keep firearms out of the hands of felons. “It wasn’t the focus of our working group.”

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