WASHINGTON (DC News Now) — A D.C. councilmember is proposing harsher punishments for people caught and convicted of illegally possessing a firearm.
“We know guns are plaguing our streets and our city and it’s unacceptable,” said councilmember Brooke Pinto. “We need to ensure that we are empowering our judges to pursue penalties when the facts allow.”
Thursday, Pinto filed a proposed amendment to the Revised Criminal Code Amendment of 2021—a massive overhaul of the District’s criminal code which has been in the works for 16 years. The RCCA aims to clarify crime and punishment in the District.
Pinto’s proposed amendment would bump up the offense class for various gun possession charges, allowing for more jail time if convicted.
“I think it’s appropriate to bump up possession of an illegal firearm by a school, possession of a illegal firearm in the public,” she said.
The proposal comes just a week after Police Chief Robert Contee told reporters that MPD has confiscated nearly 3,000 illegal firearms off the streets in 2022. The department reported that 52 were recovered just last week.
“That’s an insane amount of firearms,” said Contee.
Still, some argue harsher penalties for gun possession do not impact gun violence.
“There’s no question that we have too many guns on the streets,” said Patrice Sulton, with DC Justice Lab. “But, it’s also really fiction to believe that the way that we’re going to get at the causes of people using firearms irresponsibly or violently is that we’ll collect them all and put all the people who possess them in jail. That strategy is failing us.”
Sulton also believes Pinto’s proposed amendment will make punishment disproportionate and could make penalties for gun possession higher than for crimes that may be more serious.
“I would urge council members to vote no on the amendment to protect the key provisions that were included. And to vote yes on passing the entire package,” said Sulton. “I think (the amendment) gives people a false sense that something is being done about gun violence when really nothing is being done about it.”
“Penalties are but one tool that we have,” said Pinto. “It is certainly not the only tool.”
Council will discuss the proposed amendment next week. And take a second and final vote on the Revised Criminal Code on Tuesday.