Mt. Vernon Register-News

March 27, 2013

Gun-rights lawmaker wants tougher gun penalty

By Maureen Hayden
CNHI Statehouse Bureau

INDIANAPOLIS — One of the chief sponsors of legislation that would rewrite the Indiana criminal code wants to amend the bill to add a mandatory five-year prison sentence for using a gun to commit a felony.

Republican state Sen. Brent Steele, a gun-rights advocate, said the mandatory, full five-year penalty would send a strong message to criminals that gun violence won’t be tolerated in Indiana.

“We’re sending a message to people who want to violate the law in Indiana: If you use a firearm, you will get burned for five hard years,” Steele said.

Indiana already has a law that allows a prosecutor to ramp up the charges on someone who uses a firearm to commit a felony.

Steele wants to amend House Bill 1006, now in the Senate, to change Indiana law so a prosecutor could file the gun charge separately from the related felony, and require anyone convicted of the charge to serve 100 percent of the five-year prison term that would come with it.

“There would be no probation on it, no chance of probation and if you get convicted of it, you will not get any credit time whatsoever,” Steele said. “You’re just going to have to serve those five solid years.”

Steele is the powerful chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, the author of past gun-rights bills endorsed by the National Rifle Association. He’s also a key sponsor of House Bill 1006, major legislation that lessens penalties for low-level drug crimes and toughens penalties for the worst sex and violent crimes.

Steele said he was motivated in part to file the bill because of the heat that legitimate gun owners are taking in the current debate over gun control.

“I’m tired of people of using firearms in the commission of a felony, and then legitimate gun owners always taking the rap for it. The average citizen says: ‘Well, punish the criminal, not the law-abiding citizen.”

Steele said a mandatory prison term would “send a message, that we take the use of firearms seriously.”

Steele helped craft the language of House Bill 1006 that brings down penalties for low-level drug offenders, and diverts them out of prison and into local treatment programs.

Steele found out last week that Gov. Mike Pence objects to the bill and believes that lowering drug penalties sends the wrong message.

At a press briefing for TV and radio reporters last week, Pence said the legislation should be about reducing crime, not reducing penalties.

Maureen Hayden covers the Statehouse for the CNHI newspapers in Indiana. She can be reached at maureen.hayden@indianamediagroup.com.