Springfield leaders endorse state bill on violent crime prevention

Rep. Willis, Sen. Hackett eye tougher penalties for repeat use of weapons.

Credit: Bill Lackey

Credit: Bill Lackey

A legislative effort to address violent crime is so new the bill does not yet have a name, but Springfield city commissioners voted to endorse the effort at the commission meeting this week.

State Rep. Bernie Willis (R-Springfield) and Sen. Bob Hackett (R-London) provided the commission with a preview of their proposal, still being fine-tuned for state legislative action.

The measure includes increasing penalties for the repeated use of weapons in the commission of crimes. Penalties become more severe with each violation involving a weapon, and courts will be granted more leeway in sentencing repeat offenders.

Willis told the commission the bill is in response to pleas from city mayors and the governor to address gun violence.

“Having weapons under disability — meaning someone is already a convicted felon — prohibits people from carrying a gun … this bill will address violence on our streets by stipulating jail time for multiple-time offenders using guns in the commission of crimes.”

Those developing the legislation have been working with local governments, law enforcement and Second Amendment organizations to craft language and penalties that will receive support.

Another component of the bill will exempt someone with a long-ago felony violation from being subject to the harsher penalties being put in place to penalize repeat violent offenders.

“The example might be a 50-year-old man who committed a non-violent crime as an 18-year-old,” Willis said, “but has lived the rest of his life without any criminal violations. He is prohibited under current law from possessing a gun, and if caught with one in his pocket, would face a mandatory felony conviction and jail time. We believe judges should have the ability to weigh cases individually.”

Courts would also be given an option to increase time in prison for repeat offenders for the use of automatic weapons with suppressors.

Final language of the bill is still being crafted.

City Commissioner David Estrop noted the information was timely in that as he was walking into City Hall multiple police cruisers and an EMS vehicle sped past with sirens blaring. They were on their way, he said, “to yet another act of gun violence in this city. The sooner this legislation can move, the better.”

A 42-year-old Springfield man was charged with attempted murder and other counts in connection with a shooting Monday at Limestone Street and Fremont Avenue that seriously injured a woman identified as his girlfriend.

City Manager Bryan Heck said he welcomed actions at the state level, noting that locally many organizations have joined in a collaborative partnership related to youth gun violence to “create educational programs and new policies to make a difference locally” in reducing gun violence.

He cited a recently announced initiative by Opportunities for Individual Change (OIC) to help address gun violence among Springfield youth ages 14-24. The program is funded by a $1.6 million grant from U.S. Department of Justice to support the Community Violence Intervention and Prevention initiative.

The goal is to break patterns of violence in individuals at high risk for engaging in or becoming victims of violence, part of a joint effort involving not only OIC, but the Springfield Foundation, the Clark County Juvenile Court, the City of Springfield, Springfield City schools, the Clark County Combined Health District, Mental Health Services, Community Health Foundation and the Springfield Unit NAACP.

OIC is now seeking to appoint of a violence prevention coordinator to lead the program.

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