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(NC) Gun laws chafe DAs

Discussion in 'Legal' started by Drizzt, Dec 26, 2002.

  1. Drizzt

    Drizzt Well-Known Member

    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."
  2. El Tejon

    El Tejon Well-Known Member

    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:
  3. Blackhawk

    Blackhawk Member In Memoriam

    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...!
  4. Ted Bell

    Ted Bell Well-Known Member

    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.
  5. Waitone

    Waitone Well-Known Member

    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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