Wilson Signs 4 Bills That Take Aim at Crime
Perched before a sympathetic Los Angeles audience of police and prosecutors, Gov. Pete Wilson signed four pieces of anti-crime legislation Thursday, including a landmark law cracking down on criminals who use guns.
“I want every gangbanger to understand that every time they pull a gun, it makes them the target,” Wilson announced just before signing a law that mandates 10-year prison sentences for wielding a gun in the commission of more than a dozen serious crimes, 20 years for firing it and 25 to life for injuring or killing a victim. Crimes covered include murder, kidnapping, robbery and rape.
All sentences under the new law will be added to whatever punishment is imposed for the crime committed with the gun.
According to a representative of the state attorney general’s office, the law, which supporters call the toughest of its kind in the nation, will apply to offenders as young as 14, and it mandates that any person convicted under it serve at least 85% of the sentence imposed. State laws already provide for a variety of sentencing enhancements for criminals who use guns, but the legislation that Wilson signed Thursday will substantially toughen those laws when it goes into effect Jan. 1.
“This is the law that could silence this violence,” said Mike Reynolds, who sponsored the three-strikes law and who supported the new sentencing enhancement. Reynolds added that the two laws give California the “best one-two punch in the United States of America.”
Don Re, a Los Angeles criminal defense lawyer, agreed that the legislation signed Thursday was “huge,” but he instead predicted dire consequences. Draconian sentencing schemes such as the ones enacted by the governor, he said, often have the effect of intimidating innocent suspects into pleading guilty to crimes in return for prosecutors dropping the sentencing enhancements.
The result is not better justice but more false imprisonment, Re said.
“We’ve thrown away an entire generation of children,” he said. “And we’re making it worse.”
Such sentiments, however, were not uttered from the podium Thursday.
When he put pen to paper, Wilson was heartily applauded by about 100 Los Angeles Police Department officers who had gathered for the ceremony at Parker Center. Wilson was joined by a group that included Mayor Richard Riordan, Police Chief Bernard C. Parks and Police Commission President Edith Perez, all of whom voiced support for state laws that curb violence and stiffen penalties for serious criminals.
At the ceremony, Wilson also signed bills that toughen penalties for home invasion robberies, establish a statewide witness protection program and give local agencies more power to monitor street gangs.
“From now on,” Wilson said of the gang-tracking law, “the hunters will know what it’s like to be hunted.”
The gang-tracking legislation had been eagerly sought by Los Angeles officials and in part grew out of a Times series documenting the activities of the 18th Street gang, whose reach extends well beyond the city limits. Wilson cited that series in signing the bill, and Riordan highlighted the tracking system as an important tool for local police officers and sheriff’s deputies. The legislation approved by the governor will appropriate $1.2 million for the effort, known as CLEAR, and Wilson said he hopes to secure more money in January.
The $3-million witness protection program--the first of its kind established by any state--came in response to a recent Times series on homicides, which concluded that a principal reason police are solving fewer and fewer slayings is that witnesses are reluctant to come forward, sometimes because of well-founded fears of retaliation. The legislation, introduced by Assemblyman Bob Hertzberg (D-Sherman Oaks), establishes a program in the state Department of Justice to relocate and protect endangered witnesses.
Although Thursday’s session was marked by its show of bipartisan unity in the fight against crime, the legislation was carefully chosen to emphasize common ground while allowing the assembled politicians to paper over their disagreements on other pending bills.
Most notably, Wilson avoided any comment about legislation now on his desk that would outlaw Saturday night specials, cheap handguns whose proliferation has attracted the concern of police groups and politicians of various stripes. Wilson has yet to act on that bill, approved recently by the Legislature, but he has criticized certain aspects of it.
Parks has supported a ban on the guns, and Riordan has expressed guarded sympathy for the idea.
“Given the proliferation of guns and weapons, the mayor believes that legislation that addresses those public safety issues should be considered and should be pursued,” said Noelia Rodriguez, the mayor’s press secretary. “He hasn’t taken a position on this, but he is sympathetic to the need to pursue legislation that strikes a balance between the right to bear arms and the need to protect innocent people.”
Despite the range of views on gun control, the police, prosecutors and politicians assembled Thursday found little to disagree about when it came to long prison terms for criminals who use guns.
The bill’s sponsor, Assemblyman Tom J. Bordonaro Jr. (R-Paso Robles), praised the governor and state attorney general for their support of the measure, which he called the “toughest criminal use of a gun law in the country.”
“We know that this bill will deter criminal gun use and save lives,” Bordonaro said.
But Ramona Ripston, who heads the American Civil Liberties Union of Southern California, said that approach is profoundly misguided.
“This is just more prison construction,” she said. “This is not the way to get at crime in our society.”