State Senator Jim Merritt says he’s going to push for legislation next session that would dramatically increase penalty enhancements for criminals that use a gun. He says it’s a response to what he calls a “crisis” in Indiana’s urban areas.
Over the weekend, two police officers – one in Indianapolis and one in Gary – were shot and killed. Seven bystanders were also injured in a shootout in an Indianapolis neighborhood. Merritt, R-Indianapolis, says the time is ripe to send a message to criminals who use guns. Last session, he co-authored a bill that allows prosecutors and judges to add anywhere from five to 20 years to a sentence if a gun was used in a kidnapping, to illegally restrain someone, or if the crime resulted in death or serious injury. Next session, he’ll promote a bill that creates a mandatory enhancement.
“If you have a gun and you’re brandishing it – you don’t even need to fire it – you’ll be eligible for a 20-year enhancement, if you’re convicted of the crime,” Merritt said.
Brookville Republican Representative Jud McMillin sponsored last session’s gun crime enhancement bill and is one of the architects of the state’s criminal code overhaul. He says the legislature can’t only focus on punishing crimes after the fact.
“It’s not as simple as just throwing the book at somebody after it happens," McMillin said. "And even if it is, you’re still handling it after it happens…and we want to prevent these things from happening in the first place.”
McMillin says lawmakers need to focus on helping treat mental health issues and addiction, which he says are often at the root of these crimes.