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Clinton OKs Penalty Hikes for Using Guns in Crimes

November 14, 1998|From Times Wire Services

WASHINGTON — President Clinton signed legislation Friday that increases prison sentences for violent criminals or drug felons who commit crimes while carrying a gun.

"We know from painful experience that the most serious threat to the safety of police officers is a criminal armed with a weapon," Clinton said at a White House ceremony.

The legislation imposes an additional seven-year sentence for brandishing or pointing a gun during a crime. Ten years will be tacked on to any sentence if a gun is fired during the crime.

For subsequent offenses involving guns, the mandatory penalty is increased to 25 years from 20 years.

Intended to put to rest a question debated in the courts, the new law also stipulates that an additional and mandatory federal five-year penalty for criminals who "use or carry" firearms applies even if the criminal simply was in possession of a gun--locked in a car trunk or glove compartment, for example--during the commission of a violent crime or drug felony.

"A gun in the hands of a criminal is a danger to all of us whether he uses, carries, possesses or brandishes that weapon, because it is the gun that gives the criminal the power to terrorize our nation and to deal drugs to our children with impunity," said Baltimore police Det. Gary McLhinney, one of Clinton's guests at the White House.

The president also signed into law a measure that makes the spouses and children of slain police officers, firefighters, correctional officers and rescue workers eligible for college scholarships of about $4,800 a year.

"It's the least we can do," Clinton said.

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