I’m pretty impressed with the work of lawmakers in Tennessee this year. The state not only adopted both Constitutional Carry and Second Amendment Sanctuary legislation in the past few months, which is great news for gun owners, but the legislature also took a big step towards reducing violent crime with a new measure that focuses on the most violent offenders.
Under current state law, a convicted felon who uses a firearm in the commission of a violent crime only has to serve 30% of their sentence. As of July 1st, however, that will change, and those violent felons will have to serve at least 85% of their sentence before they’re eligible for release.
Neil Pinkston, who’s the chief prosecutor in Hamilton County, Tennessee, says the new law will ensure real consequences for violent criminals. It’s a far cry from what we’ve seen from Democrats around the country, who are largely silent when it comes to violent criminals and are much more vocal in their support for restricting the rights of law-abiding gun owners.
“It focuses on individuals that are prohibited from being in possession of a firearm, felony firearm based on prior convictions, prior felony convictions,” says Pinkston.
The law, which goes into effect July 1st, is part of the TARGET initiative – a collaboration between local, state, and federal law enforcement.
It comes after a string of local shootings, like the one in Coolidge Park, last month.
“We’re just trying to focus on the one thing we can control and that’s the prosecution of it,” Pinkston says.
This will help, not only by removing violent offenders from the streets for a longer period of time, but hopefully deterring others from committing a violent crime to begin with.
Of course there are some who say the bill is aimed in the wrong direction, and who would rather focus on education and job training instead of imposing more time behind bars.
Joe Smith is the executive director of Prison Prevention Ministries, a faith-based rehabilitation service that focuses on steering criminals in the right direction.
“Whatever the length of their sentence is, we start on day one. Helping them get a GED if that’s what they need, helping them get driver’s license back, helping them find a place to live,” says Smith, explaining the specifics of what his program does.
And much like City Councilwoman Demetrus Coonrod said at a press conference addressing the uptick in violence, Smith says the community has to be involved.
“The community needs to help with that. We can’t just depend on law enforcement, our courts, to solve this problem. You and I have got to be a part of the solution,” says Smith, discussing the community’s role.
I actually agree with Smith that rehabilitation is hugely important, and that we can’t solely depend on the criminal justice system to reduce crime, but that doesn’t mean that we can ignore the fact that violent criminals are often getting plea deals and light sentences that don’t exactly discourage recidivism. In fact, I’d argue that Smith’s work is complementary to the state’s new law cracking down on violent felons by offering them another path to take; one that doesn’t lead to the gates of a state prison.
One thing that Smith’s work and the new state law has in common is that both are focused on offenders themselves and not responsible gun owners. If we want to reduce crime the first step is to acknowledge that a majority of offenses are committed by a relatively few number of people, and to target our resources accordingly. I would love it if Joe Smith could get every felon he works with to change their ways, but since that’s not likely, I’m glad that a longer prison sentence awaits those violent felons who continue to pursue a life of crime instead of taking advantage of the help that’s available.