Gang Bang

A juvenile crime bill pending in the Senate would establish severe penalties for nonviolent firearm offenses. Introduced by Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-Utah), the legislation would establish a five-year mandatory minimum sentence for participants in a "criminal street gang," defined as five or more people who commit at least two covered offenses, representing "a primary activity" of the group, within a five-year period. The covered offenses include violations of the federal Gun Control Act, which restricts possession of guns, bans certain kinds of firearms, and establishes a regulatory system for gun dealers.

This provision, notes Gun Owners of America, could apply to three friends who take their teenaged children target shooting on the weekends but fail to bring parental notes authorizing the kids to possess a handgun at the range. Hunters who tinker with an imported rifle, adding a folding stock on one occasion and a muzzle brake on another, could also be defined as a criminal street gang and face a mandatory five-year sentence.

To make matters worse, Hatch's bill applies the Racketeer-Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act to gun law violations. RICO allows property forfeiture and prison sentences of up to 20 years for "a pattern of criminal activity" involving two or more offenses. It also permits private parties to sue violators. Under the original version of Hatch's legislation, a gun dealer who made a couple of paperwork errors could have lost his store and any other property used for business purposes, gone to prison for a decade or two, and, to top it off, faced a lawsuit by Handgun Control Inc.

After several of his colleagues objected, Hatch removed paperwork violations from the RICO provision. But it would still cover other nonviolent offenses, such as possessing a firearm within 1,000 feet of a school. Thus someone who keeps a handgun in his glove compartment for self-defense and drives past a school on his way to and from work could forfeit his car and go to prison for 20 years.

The juvenile crime bill is not expected to reach the Senate floor until October. Gun Owners of America is tracking the legislation.

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