A national gun-rights group is decrying an “anti-gangs” crime bill recently passed in the House of Representatives, saying the proposal, if it becomes law, could subject entire families to prison terms if a parent uses a firearm to protect his or her brood.
The bill, H.R. 1279, the Gang Deterrence and Community Protection Act of 2005, passed in the House May 11 by a vote of 279-144.
Though the bill calls for increased penalties for gang activity, Larry Pratt, executive director of Gun Owners of America, believes it could be used to punish a family as a “gang” – which must be at least three people –when a gun is used to protect that family.
Writes Pratt in a column:
Let’s assume that you and your family are on your way home from church. You have a gun in the glove compartment that is there for self-protection. After driving within 1,000 feet of a school (which is almost unavoidable), you stop by the grocery store to pick up a few items for lunch.
As you are exiting your car, you are approached by a gang of teenagers armed with long screwdrivers and wrenches. Realizing that you are about to be mugged, you brandish your firearm in order to scare them off – although this act on your part is a violation of state law, which requires that you first retreat, rather than defend yourself.
Congratulations. Under legislation that recently passed the House, all the members of your family are now subject to a mandatory minimum sentence of 10 years in prison – and up to life imprisonment!
Pratt points out the bill, sponsored by Rep. J. Randy Forbes, R-Va., defines “criminal street gangs” to be formal or informal groups of three or more individuals who commit two or more of a long list of “predicate” crimes.
In the activist’s scenario, the first crime committed by the “street gang” family is violation of the 1,000-foot “gun-free-school-zone” law. The second is the use of a gun in self-defense, rather than first retreating as required in some states. The violation of those two “predicate” crimes, therefore, means the new measure’s provisions would kick in – with the mandatory sentence of 10 years.
Under the bill, one of the two crimes must be a “crime of violence.”
Writes Pratt: “The threat to use a firearm against the muggers is both a gang crime and a crime of violence because it involves a ‘threat’ of ‘force’ against a person.”
Pratt also decries a provision in the bill that he says could be used to send someone to jail for a minimum of 20 years for using a gun in self-defense.
“Federal law prohibits the mere possession of a firearm during and in relation to a crime of violence,” Pratt wrote. “The term ‘crime of violence’ clearly includes brandishing or even opening your coat to display a firearm to defend yourself against a mugger – without retreating – in states that require retreat. Hence, a concealed carry permit holder who opens his suit jacket and displays a firearm to a potential mugger in these states is liable under this section because ‘crime of violence’ means the threatened use of force against person or property.”
Pratt praises 20 pro-gun-rights Republicans who voted against the measure, including Reps. John Hostettler, Ind., Ron Paul, Texas, and Roscoe Bartlett, Md.
The Senate version of the bill, S. 155, is sponsored by Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., and Orrin Hatch, R-Utah. That bill has been referred to the Senate Committee on the Judiciary.