Tougher law, ad campaign target felons who carry guns

New state measure sets mandatory 5-year terms for weapons violators

September 27, 2000|By Caitlin Francke | Caitlin Francke,SUN STAFF

City and state law-enforcement officials announced yesterday a crackdown on gun-toting felons, warning offenders that prosecutors will seek stiff prison terms under a new gun law that takes effect next week.

As part of the crackdown, a series of posters will soon be placed on billboards, tacked up in bars, and broadcast on television, telling convicted felons that if they are caught with a gun, they will be sent to prison for an automatic five-year term. "No deals, no parole, just goodbye," one of the ads states.

"We hope those individuals with past felony drug and violent convictions will heed this warning," Baltimore State's Attorney Patricia C. Jessamy said.

The law, which was part of the state's Smart Gun legislation, takes effect Sunday. It beefs up the current law that prohibits convicted felons from owning or carrying guns by increasing the sentence from a five-year maximum to a mandatory five-year, no-parole term. It applies to offenders who have previously been convicted of a violent crime or felony drug offense.

Jessamy said she expected the law to bring in between 250 and 700 new trials every year in the city's Circuit Court. The law "is a new tool to help us get the most violent, repeat offenders off the streets," she said.

Jessamy's record on gun prosecutions came under fire in January when The Sun documented that prosecutors routinely dropped charges that carried mandatory minimum sentences in order to plea-bargain cases, and that few people charged with violent crimes received lengthy prison terms.

Since then, using state and city funds, she has increased the size of her handgun unit and put greater emphasis on gun prosecutions.

Yesterday, Jessamy stopped short of saying that her office would have a no-plea-bargain policy on cases involving that beefed-up charge. She said prosecutors will seek the mandatory five-year term in all "viable" cases, suggesting that some cases might be disposed of for less prison time if there are problems with evidence or witnesses.

The ad campaign, officially called Automatic5, was designed by the Baltimore firm of Gray, Kirk/VanSant. Yesterday, Roger Gray, chief executive officer, said his firm did the project for free.

One of the ads - aimed at young men - features a smiling woman on one side and a man behind bars on the other. "Spend the next 5 years with her or him," the ad says. "Use a gun, say good-bye."

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