The Transylvania Times -

Of Gun And Prison Reforms


Last updated 12/26/2018 at 3:54pm

Two decisions made in Washington, D.C., last week are small, but significant, steps toward reducing mass shootings and reforming prisons.

Last Tuesday the Trump administration issued a new rule banning bump stocks, devices that transform semi-automatic weapons into automatic ones. Bump stocks were used when a gunman killed 58 people and wounded more than 400 in Las Vegas in October of 2017.

Under this ban, Americans who own bump stocks have 90 days to either destroy them or turn them over to the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives.

The ban appears to be legally consistent and practical. In 1986, Congress banned nearly all ownership of automatic weapons. According to the Department, the Gun Control Act of 1986 “makes it unlawful for any person to transfer or possess a machine-gun unless it was lawfully possessed prior to the effective date of the statute.” Since bump stock were not in existence prior to the passage of the act, then they violate the act.

Semi-automatic weapons with bump stocks are automatic weapons. AR-15s, which were used in the mass killings at an Orlando nightclub and a high school in Parkland, Fla., deliver 24 shots every nine seconds. The bump stock guns used in Las Vegas delivered 90 shots in 10 seconds. A fully automatic weapon can deliver 98 shots in seven seconds. Clearly, weapons with bump stocks perform more closely to automatic than semi-automatic weapons and should be regulated as such.

Such a ban will not make much of a difference in most mass shootings, but it should prevent another massacre like the one that occurred in Las Vegas.

Also on Tuesday of last week, the U.S. Senate voted 87-12 to pass a criminal reform bill. The House agreed to the changes and President Trump signed the bill Friday.

Among other things, the bill, entitled the First Step Act, expands job training and other programs aimed at reducing recidivism, allows low-risk inmates to serve the final six months of their incarceration confined to home, and retroactively applies the Fair Sentencing Act of 2010 to reduce the crack/powder cocaine disparity and provides more appropriate punishment for nonviolent drug offenders. The first two steps should make it easier for inmates to become reintegrated into society, for they should have some employable skills and have a taste of freedom without being totally free. It also reduces de facto racism. Those who sold crack cocaine were often black while those who sold powder cocaine were white, yet the penalty for selling crack cocaine was at least five times greater than the penalty for selling powder cocaine. As for drug offenders, too many nonviolent sellers of marijuana have been given sentences similar to sellers of heroin and more dangerous drugs.

The First Step Act, however, is only a small step toward needed criminal reform. The federal system contains only about 10 percent of our convicts. The other 90 percent reside in state prisons or county jails. In addition to the federal reforms now being passed, states also need to take measures regarding nonviolent offenders, pre-trial incarceration due to an inability to pay cash bond and treatment-based diversion programs for low-level drug offenders.

In Alabama, a pregnant woman was jailed because she could not meet the $7,500 bond. Her alleged crime – forging a $75 check. In too many cases like this, the bond is grossly disproportionate to the crime and places an impossible financial burden on a person who already is poor.

Regarding treatment-based diversion programs, the Prison Policy Initiative found that 65 percent of those incarcerated in jails have diagnosable substance abuse disorders. It is quite common for a drug addict to turn to selling drugs to sustain their own habit. Focusing solely on punishment helps neither the offender nor society.

For decades, politicians have campaigned on being “tough on crime.” But there is a difference between being “tough and stupid” and “tough and smart.” Hopefully, the measures taken last week are steps that will help transform our system from the former to the latter by prudently protecting the public from dangerous individuals while helping small-time criminals and substance abuse victims become productive members of our society.


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