Baldwin County law enforcement officials say a new law recently signed by the governor making possession of any stolen firearm a felony offense will be a good tool for them to use in fighting crime.
Prior to the signing of House Bill 357 sponsored by Rep. Matt Simpson, R-Daphne, only stolen guns valued at $1,500 or more resulted in a felony charge against defendants. The bill changes that to say “receiving stolen property that is a firearm, rifle or shotgun, regardless of its value” is a Class C felony punishable by a minimum 366-day jail sentence with a 10-year maximum prison term possible.
“They don’t have to actually steal it, they just have to be in possession of it,” Baldwin County Sheriff Hoss Mack said. “We’re hoping that by stepping it up to a Class C felony that a person can receive an extended probation time or even a jail sentence for it. It’s going to help us as far as acting as a deterrent for those people that want to try and deal in stolen firearms.”
Mack said incidents of certain gun thefts have been rising on both sides of the bay and the change in the law will be a way to combat those thefts.
“We’ve had both in Mobile and Baldwin County an increase in the numbers of guns that have been taken out of vehicles,” Mack said. “I know [Mobile Police] Chief [James] Barber was the one that kind of led this effort from over there.”
Barber said while guns stolen from vehicles are rising, overall gun thefts in Mobile have decreased about 40 percent in the past year and he hopes this new law will continue that trend.
“It shows we’re taking this issue seriously and that there are going to be more serious consequences for possessing and using a stolen firearm,” Barber said.
Gulf Shores Police Chief Ed Delmore said arresting those with stolen firearms has always been a focus of his department. The new law gives judges a way to apply harsher punishments for those crimes.
“We can always improve, but law enforcement already does a pretty good job of locating persons with stolen firearms and felons illegally in possession of firearms,” Delmore said. “However, that’s all for nothing if the courts don’t appropriately sentence those convicted of these types of offenses. Those committing firearms offenses today become the shooters tomorrow and then it’s too late.”
Simpson, a former prosecutor himself, says another intention of the new law is to increase safety for law enforcement officers. Simpson said he was pleased the bill received bipartisan support when it was passed earlier this year.
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