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Barbour signs bill to toughen gun laws for felons

Convicted felons will face stiffer penalties for possessing weapons or using guns while committing crimes, under two bills Gov. Haley Barbour signed Tuesday.

Both new laws take effect July 1.

Under one of them, a felon will face a 10-year sentence if found guilty of possessing a gun, “bowie knife, dirk knife, butcher knife, switchblade knife, metallic knuckles, blackjack” or silencers for firearms. The penalty had been three years.

The other new law says a convicted felon found guilty of using a gun during a crime would be sentenced to 10 years, which would run consecutively to any other penalty a judge hands down. Barbour said anyone convicted of the crimes would not be eligible for a reduction in sentence. Violators also could be fined up to $5,000.

“Law enforcement officers … have rightly said for a long time that state law is too lenient in this area, and today we’re correcting that,” Barbour said during a bill-signing ceremony in his Capitol office. “These laws will make it easier for the state to prosecute criminals and get them off the street.”

Cmdr. Lee Vance, a spokesman for the Jackson Police Department, said officers have been frustrated in the past when they arrest dangerous criminals only to see them back on the streets sometimes with a “slap on the wrist.”

“In the South, there’s so much political rhetoric about the perception of unneeded gun control that I think he deserves to be commended,” Vance said of Barbour. “I think in the wake of what we have going on with the number of armed robberies, any law that would strengthen sentences for felons using firearms is a definite positive.”

Barbour said the bills punish criminals for using guns without infringing on the rights of law-abiding citizens who own firearms.

Sen. Perry Lee, R-Mendenhall, sponsored one of the bills.

“I look forward to the abilities that it gives our police officers to prevent crimes in not only metropolitan areas, but also rural areas of the state,” Lee said.

Public Safety Commissioner George Phillips said the law “will speed up the prosecution of cases made by state and local law enforcement agencies by providing penalties in line with those on the federal level.”

The bills are Senate Bill 2470 and 2459.