Bill Would Boost Penalties for Criminals Using 'Assault Weapons'

By Susan Jones | July 7, 2008 | 8:06 PM EDT

( - Hoping to reverse an "alarming trend," two Florida state lawmakers, both Democrats, have introduced a bill that would require stiffer mandatory sentences for criminals who use semiautomatic or automatic weapons.

The legislation also targets criminals who fraudulently acquire assault weapons and sellers who "know or should have known the buyer was using false identification."

In a Feb. 6 news release announcing the bill, State Senator Gwen Margolis and Representative Evan Jenne mentioned a case in September, where a 25-year-old fugitive shot and killed a Miami-Dade police officer with a semi-automatic rifle.

In 2006, there were 19 reported homicides involving assault weapons in Miami-Dade County alone, the lawmakers said.

The bills introduced in both the Florida House and Senate (SB 782/HB 425) would require a mandatory life sentence for a criminal who uses a semi-automatic or automatic weapon during the commission of a crime, resulting in death or serious bodily injury.

Criminals using those weapons to commit crimes that do not involve death or injury would get a minimum 25 years in prison.

And criminals who use false identification or identity theft to buy or sell a semi-automatic or automatic weapon -- even if they do not use it to commit a crime -- will face up to 15 years in prison and up to $25,000 in fines.

"Current law is not effectively assisting law enforcement in getting illegally obtains guns off the street. Our intent is to provide law enforcement with the tools necessary to keep the public safe," said Jenne.

The lawmakers said they hope to "break the supply chain and reduce the number of illegally obtained guns in our communities."

The legislation has the support of the Miami-Dade Police Department, the Florida Police Chiefs Association, the Florida Sheriff's Association, the Fraternal Order of Police, and the Police Benevolent Association, the lawmakers said.

However, Second Amendment groups are expected to reject the legislation. The South Florida Sun-Sentinel quoted one lobbyist for the National Rifle Association, who called the proposal flawed.

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