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Bill Giving Repeat Gun Offenders Stiffer Sentences Advances To Senate

SPRINGFIELD (CBS) – A bill imposing harsher penalties for repeat gun offenders advanced to the Illinois Senate floor Thursday after Chicago Police Superintendent Eddie Johnson pleaded to lawmakers.

CBS 2's Derrick Blakely reports.

Chicago Officials have pushed for stronger gun laws against repeat offenders since the days of Mayor Richard Daley's administration. Supt. Johnson followed suit in the state capital, pleading for a new tool to hold gun offenders accountable following a year in which Chicago suffered 767 murders.

"If an individual shows a repeated willingness to pick up a gun and use it illegally, those individuals need to pay a price," he said.

Under a bill called the Safe Neighborhoods Reform Act, sentencing guidelines for repeat gun offenders would increase from three to 14 years, to seven to 14 years. If a judge wanted to give less time, he would need to give an explanation.

"The goal of this is to incarcerate less people. And I would be really pleased if we see the number of arrests dropping as they did in New York and L.A. from gun offenses, because we create that mental culture to not pick up a gun," Johnson said.

Chicago's police superintendent has long argued that innocent victims would be alive today with stronger gun laws, such as basketball star Dwayne Wade's cousin Nykea Aldridge. A gunfight between two gang members killed her in broad daylight while she pushed her newborn in a stroller.

The shooters were both on parole for gun charges. They would have been in jail had the proposed law been in effect.

"If this law had been in effect then, a lot of these murders just simply wouldn't have taken place," said Supt. Johnson.

Nykea's mother, Diann, strongly supported the proposed gun law. However, she thinks other layers are needed to weaken gangs' grip on Chicago's youth.

"What are they doing while they are inside the prison walls to be reformed," she asked.

The proposed reforms scare Eric Wilkins. He is a paraplegic who was shot in 1999, and fears tougher gun penalties could trap black men carrying guns for protection.

"My father was cab driver, and he had been robbed and shot multiple times. He always told us, 'it's better to be caught with it than without it,'" he said.

State Senator Kwame Raoul, who's a state sponsor of the bill, flatly rejected the point of view Wilkins expressed. He said as a father of a 19-year-old, citizens must do everything they can to confront the city's gun problem.

"And for those who say, 'these are people who are just illegally carrying weapons, they haven't shot anybody yet,' I'd prefer not to wait until they shoot somebody," he said.

Mayor Rahm Emanuel applauded Sen. Raoul's efforts for getting the bill farther. He said it shows that Springfield realizes gang members see the criminal justice system as a joke when it comes to gun violence.

"For the first time, Chicago and Illinois are going to go on record, if you're a repeat gun offender, you're going to do the time for your crime," Emanuel said.

The state's county prosecutors supported the gun sentencing bill. Republicans opposed it, objecting to some of the criminal justice reform elements of the measure. The bill passed out of committee on a six-to-five vote.

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