(NC) Gun laws chafe DAs


December 26, 2002, 12:32 PM
Copyright 2002 The News and Observer
The News and Observer (Raleigh, NC)

December 25, 2002 Wednesday, FINAL EDITION


LENGTH: 940 words

HEADLINE: Gun laws chafe DAs

BYLINE: Demorris Lee, Staff Writer


Local prosecutors, complaining that state laws are too weak,
are turning to federal courts for help with punishing convicted
felons who are arrested while possessing guns.

Prosecutors say they should have the ability to ask for
stiffer sentences for criminals caught with a gun while
committing another felony. They say they will ask the General
Assembly next year to change the law, which also allows
state-convicted felons to have weapons in their homes.

"It would be appropriate to at least take a look at our gun
laws and have some public debate," said Michael Moore, an
assistant district attorney in Durham. "Most people in North
Carolina would be shocked to know that it's perfectly legal for a
convicted felon to have a gun in his home." For now, however, the state prosecutors are looking for help
from federal authorities. When they have a defendant who, for
example, is charged with dealing drugs and possessing a weapon,
they'd prefer to have him prosecuted in federal court, where the
gun possession is a felony. Under state law, it's a misdemeanor.

James Mercer, resident agent in charge of the Raleigh office
of the federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms, said that
in Durham alone, more than 200 cases have been handled in a
two-year period with an average sentence of 17 years given to
those convicted.

"The problem is these guys are going in and out of state
prison," Mercer said. "The federal law exposes a weakness that
all these guys have, and that's the willingness and the desire to
possess guns. It makes them easy targets."

Local prosecutors have a second beef: State law allows those
convicted of state felonies to possess handguns in their homes,
or to have rifles or shotguns anywhere.

According to state statutes, a convicted felon may possess a
firearm in his home or "lawful place of business." It's also
legal for a convicted felon to possess a gun anywhere as long as
the barrel length is not less than 18 inches or the overall
length of the gun is not less than 26 inches.

Federal law prohibits felons from having a gun of any sort.

Though he has supported stronger gun laws against convicted
felons, outgoing state Sen. Frank Ballance of Warrenton -- soon
to be a congressman -- doesn't think state and federal law should
be the same.

"I'm not a member of the NRA, but I try to be a common-sense
legislator," Ballance said. "Everybody that's convicted of a
felony is not dangerous. A man should have the right to protect
his castle, and that's his house. He's got to have a right to
possess a firearm."

In 1994, many state district attorneys wanted an additional
five-year sentence given to those convicted of carrying a gun
while committing another felony.

"We wanted a law that would say, if we catch these guys
standing out selling cocaine, and they have a 9 millimeter stuck
in their belt, we'd be able to prosecute them and put them in
jail for five years," said Colon Willoughby, Wake County's
district attorney. "But the law that was ultimately passed
doesn't apply to anyone. It's like a hip pocket on a hog."

Under the 1994 law, many drug crimes are not serious enough to
attract additional jail time for carrying a gun. A sentence can
be enhanced if someone is convicted of felonies such as armed
robbery or aggravated assault.

"Under federal law, there is an enhancement, but on the state
level, what was ultimately passed was so watered down that it's
worthless," Willoughby said.

So the prosecutors look to federal court, where stricter laws
resulted in prison sentences for Carlos Douglas, 26, and Debarros
Clamp, 25. Both were arrested on Morehead Avenue in Durham after
police received several complaints about drug sales. The men had
some cocaine, marijuana and two handguns in their possession.

Instead of prosecuting the cases in Durham County, both
matters were transferred to U.S. District Court in Greensboro.
Douglas and Clamp both pleaded guilty to felonious possession of
a firearm. In November, Douglas was sentenced to seven years in
federal prison, and Clamp, who already had three violent-felony
convictions, got 15 years.

State Rep. Paul Luebke, a Durham Democrat, said he wasn't
aware of the differences between state and federal law in these

"I'd be glad to introduce legislation to raise our standards,"
Luebke said. "I'm always concerned about violent crimes, and if
DAs are hampered by our state law to do things they think will
help in law enforcement, then I would like to help them."

Paul Valone, president of Grass Roots North Carolina, a
statewide organization that supports rights of gun owners, said
any change would be scrutinized.

"GRN is not in favor of felons possessing firearms, but I'm
not aware of any proof of widespread felons being arrested with
guns in their homes," he said from Charlotte. "GRN support for
legislation would depend solely on the specifics of the
legislation, because the stated intent of a bill, and what it
actually does, is often dramatically different."

Johnson Britt, president of the N.C. Conference of District
Attorneys, said the organization is asking for help with people
who simply do not obey the law.

"We are not talking about Joe Citizen who has never been
convicted of a crime," said Britt, who is Robeson County's
district attorney. "We are talking about people who have lost
their right to possess guns and who have continued to do so."

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El Tejon
December 26, 2002, 01:03 PM
At least the NC DAs are getting cases transferred to their USA. I could rarely get our USA involved in local BGs (those who we knew were BGs) even during "Triggerlock" or "Safestreets." The ones I did get over to them I had to jump up and down for them to take.

Now some poor guy with a clean record and an extra baffle--look out!:rolleyes:

December 26, 2002, 01:34 PM
A felon possessing a gun while commiting a new crime is one thing, but a felon merely owning a gun is quite another.

However, a criminal commiting his first crime should really get slammed if he has a gun, knife, or other "deadly force" weapon on him at the time.

Bottom line: Armed perps should get serioiusly slammed irrespective of their criminal record, but felons should be able to have their RKBA rights restored.

Actually, non-criminals should be able to have their RKBA rights restored...!

Ted Bell
December 26, 2002, 01:57 PM
The felony/misdemeanor distinction is often spurious at best. Should violent felons have access to guns? No. Should a thief who steals a goat (a felony under Utah law) lose his right to bear arms? Probably not.

December 26, 2002, 04:57 PM
If a felon "pays his debt to society" (a concept I think is a crock) he should have all his rights restored.

If a felon has not "payed his debt to society" then what is he doing loose?

I agree with Blackhawk. Slam 'em first time. Second time do a pile driver. I have no confidence in the NC's legislature to ability to make rational decisions about anything much less firearms.

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