Police in Mobile arrested a 20-year-old man after two illegal firearms were found in his vehicle during a routine traffic stop last week — the first of what officials hope will be many cases brought under a new law that makes the possession of any stolen gun a felony offense regardless of its value.
According to police, Damontray Mack was pulled over on Dauphin Island Parkway shortly before 8 p.m. on Oct. 8, after a patrol officer noticed his vehicle had a headlight out. During an inventory search of the car, police say they located two illegal firearms — one stolen and one that had been altered.
Charlette Solis, a spokesperson for the Mobile Police Department (MPD), said officers located a silver Smith & Wesson handgun under the passenger seat and an AR-15 pistol behind the driver’s seat. The handgun had previously been reported stolen, and the serial number on the AR-15 had been removed, according to Solis.
Mack has since posted bond and been released from jail, but he’s now facing felony charges for receiving stolen property, carrying a pistol without a permit and altering a firearm. This time last month, police would have only been able to charge him with a misdemeanor for having the stolen handgun.
However, on Oct. 1, a new law went into effect making the possession of a stolen firearm a felony offense. Prior to its passage, stealing a gun was a felony, but simply being caught with a stolen firearm was only a misdemeanor in most cases, depending on the gun’s value.
The change was pushed by a contingent of local legislators and law enforcement officials including MPD Chief Lawrence Battiste and Director of Public Safety James Barber. This week Battiste said having stiffer charges at their disposal makes it easier for local police to keep criminals off of the street longer.
“We’re hoping this will strengthen our ability to address those individuals stealing weapons because it creates an enhancement to how much time you can possibly spend in jail,” he said. “After a felony conviction, they can also face federal charges for possession of a firearm, and we think that could especially help when dealing with those that are repeat offenders.”
Battiste also said the level of firepower Mack had when he was pulled over was concerning in and of itself. He said semi-automatic weapons like an AR-15, while legal to own, present a real danger to police and to the community when they fall into the wrong hands.
“Obviously, handguns themselves can cause a lot of damage but an AR-15 or similar weapons have the ability to penetrate through many surfaces and that creates more of an inherent danger,” Battiste said. “I’m not endorsing any particular law about who should have them, but there’s no denying they pose a serious threat in the hands of people who have the intent to misuse them.”
Battiste urged all law-abiding gun owners to document their serial numbers and to make sure their firearms are stored in a secure location. He also encouraged the public not to hesitate in reporting suspected gunfire, because those calls often help police find and recover other illegal weapons.
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