STEUBENVILLE - Jefferson County Sheriff Fred Abdalla says longer mandatory jail sentences for violent offenders keeps them off the streets, and the more time they are in prison the less opportunity they have to shoot people.
Abdalla has asked Ohio lawmakers to craft legislation raising the mandatory prison term for anyone convicted of committing a felony while using a firearm. And, state Rep. Jack Cera, D-Bellaire, has introduced House Bill 505, which would increase the mandatory sentence for those convicted of felonies with gun specifications from three years to 10 years. The measure sits before the House Judiciary Committee.
"I've been wanting to do this for years," Abdalla said. "There is so much gun violence in our communities, and it is time - long overdue - to increase the penalty. If someone points a gun at you ... pistol whips you ... or robs someone at gunpoint, right now there is a mandatory sentence of three years. I want that to increase."
Violent offenders often receive longer jail sentences, but are let out early because of plea bargains, according to Abdalla.
"Sometimes we send them to prison, then they're back on the streets again shooting people and we have to arrest them again," he said. "This bill is not going to solve all the crime problems, but it will send a message. If these people are in jail, they are not back on the streets shooting a gun at somebody."
The measure is not a gun control attempt, Abdalla said. He believes law-abiding citizens have a right to carry a weapon.
"The honest people using them properly - this doesn't affect them," he said. "This is designed for the bad guy who robs and kills people. We want to put them away for using a weapon. We already have enough laws for gun control that need to be enforced. There are punks out there who make their living by robbing gas stations, and this bill is designed to put them away so they won't use a gun for 10 years. I don't think there's a law enforcement agency that would oppose this, and the (National Rifle Association) should wrap their arms around this law."
The 10-year mandatory sentence for use of a weapon while committing a felony would be in addition to any jail time assessed for the felony crime, according to Abdalla.
Cera said he is disappointed no lawmakers have signed on to the bill since he introduced it in late March.
"I guess they have already dealt with the issue of mandatory sentences, and reducing them to decrease prison overcrowding," he said.
Legislators do not want to approve the funding to build another prison in the state, and many are instead advocating for community corrections in lieu of jail time, according to Cera.
"For low-level offenders, maybe that is the thing to do," he said. "Our prisons are already overcrowded. If we need to lock up (lesser criminals), maybe we should think about doing that. But we have to strike a balance between mandatory sentencing and a judge's discretion in sentencing.
Violent offenders need to be locked up for a longer period of time."