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Senator seeks tougher penalties for gun crimes

March 17, 1999|By LAURA ERNDE

ANNAPOLIS - Maryland Sen. Alex X. Mooney, R-Frederick/Washington, is seeking tougher penalties for criminals who use handguns.

Mooney is sponsoring a bill that would require a mandatory minimum sentence of 10 years for someone who uses a handgun in a crime. The current penalty is five years.

The bill was heard Wednesday by Mooney's committee, Judicial Proceedings.

The legislation is opposed by some gun rights activists, who argued it unfairly singles out crimes committed with guns.

But Mooney said the law would not infringe on the rights of gun owners.

"The purpose is not to take away the gun but to punish the person who uses it. This is a pro-gun bill," he said.

Mooney modeled his bill after a California law known as "10-20-life," he said.

There, someone who uses a gun in a crime faces a minimum of 10 years in prison. If the weapon is fired during the crime, the minimum sentence is 20 years. If someone is seriously injured the penalty is 25 to life, he said.

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"(California) Gov. Pete Wilson's spokesman said it best. 'We'd rather fill up the prisons before the cemeteries.' The criminals are very scared of this," Mooney said.

The Maryland Public Defenders Office opposes the bill, arguing that the issue should be addressed during a statewide study of sentencing guidelines.

The handgun bill is one of two pieces of legislation Mooney decided to sponsor in his freshman year.

The other was a resolution calling on the U.S. Census Bureau not to use statistical sampling in the 2000 count.

The resolution was killed this week by the Senate Economic and Environmental Affairs Committee.

Mooney said he wanted to call attention to the issue of statistical sampling, which he argues increases the chance of a miscount.

If Washington County were under counted, it would lose federal dollars as well as elected representation, he said.

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