Study has Attorney General Mike DeWine seeking to clamp down hard on repeat violent offenders

by Chad D. Baus & Jim Irvine

The Columbus Dispatch reported recently that in response to a new study showing that a small group of repeat violent offenders is responsible for a third of all violent-crime convictions, Attorney General Mike DeWine is planning to propose legislation to keep such felons behind bars much longer.

From the article:

"We cannot afford not to lock up a three-time violent offender," DeWine said. "We should always have room in prison for someone who might kill my daughter."

DeWine said the study was prompted by the 2011 Dispatch series, "Target: Gun Violence," that looked at the problem of repeat gun offenders in Columbus and statewide.

In the series, police complained that repeat gun offenders should face steadily escalating punishment, similar to drunken-driving laws.

DeWine, a former U.S. senator and county prosecutor, said he will work with Gov. John Kasich's administration on legislation to be introduced in the General Assembly this fall, although he wasn't specific on what might be in it. State Sen. Jim Hughes, R-Columbus, is among the lawmakers who might sponsor the proposal.

According to the article, the study was done at DeWine's request by Deanna L. Wilkinson, an associate professor in the Department of Human Development and Family Science at Ohio State University.

Wilkinson tapped crime statistics from the Bureau of Criminal Investigation database and the Ohio Department of Rehabilitation and Correction for 1974 to 2010.

She found that 230,288 people, or 2.62 percent of all Ohioans, were charged with violent felony offenses in Ohio over 36 years.

People convicted of three or more violent offenses accounted for less than 1 percent of the population but 33 percent of all violent-crime convictions over nearly four decades, Wilkinson's study found.

"That definitely tells us that there are certain people who, unless there is some kind of intervention in their behavior, will be likely to repeat their behavior," Wilkinson said.

Wilkinson said her study found that about 69 percent of weapons offenses appeared to be dismissed before reaching a court for a decision. Another 28.5 percent of weapons charges that reached the prosecution stage were dismissed, likely because of plea bargains to other crimes.

"Why are all these gun arrests happening and then not being moved forward in the criminal justice system?" she asked. She intends to study the phenomenon in more depth this summer.

DeWine said the study provides "predictability" for changing the law to provide "long, long sentences" for repeat violent offenders. "Statistics clearly show you are a dangerous person."

The Dispatch says DeWine acknowledged that the need to lock up violent offenders has to be meshed with the state's ongoing effort to reduce the costly burden of overcrowded state prisons. "We've decided we’re not going to lock everybody up. We just need to decide the right ones to lock up."

Sgt. Jim Gilbert, president of the Fraternal Order of Police Capital City Lodge No.9, said his union would back any proposal to strengthen laws dealing with repeat offenders.

Just Wednesday night, a man with two previous convictions for carrying a concealed weapon as well as convictions for robbery, drug possession and assault fired upon Columbus police in an unprovoked attack, Gilbert said.

"We're not talking about a guy who just made a bad error in judgment," Gilbert said. "We're talking about a guy who continues to prey on society. I'm glad that Mike DeWine and the attorney general's office see there is a specific need.

"These are the people that we need to be going after," he said.

As we commented at the time DeWine's "Violent Crime with Guns Advisory Group" was first announced one year ago, it may be concerning to gun owners that DeWine originally cited a flawed Columbus Dispatch series as part of his motivation for the study. It is unclear if DeWine knew when the press release was being written that the referenced "study" was bought and paid for by the anti-gun Joyce Foundation for the specific purpose of "having a major public policy impact" on gun control laws, but Buckeye Firearms Association sent the information to his staff for their consideration last year.

Regardless of the origin of the idea, DeWine is right to pursue policies that remove repeat violent offenders from our streets. We don't solve crime by infringing on the rights of law abiding gun owners, but by prosecuting violent felons for their criminal actions. DeWine is right to target the people committing the crimes rather than the tools they use in the commission of those crimes.

Too often these types of committees are predestined to come up with a set of policies to support the political agenda of the person convening the committee. As we noted last year, we were delighted to see that DeWine mentioned working with law enforcement groups and "people who represent organizations like the NRA (National Rifle Association) and victims' advocates." Thus far, this unusual move seems to have allowed DeWine's group to have honest, intellectual discussions about the causes and solutions surrounding repeat violent offenders.

We often talk about how law enforcement and armed citizens are on the same side. We are the "good guys" who defend ourselves, and sometimes others, when the "bad guys" attack. While some leaders of police groups have tried to work against the citizens who pay their salary, most officers are good people who want a good relationship with the community they serve. Removed from the limelight of the Statehouse, there exists the possibility for ideas to replace egos and for all individuals involved to work toward workable solutions for a problem that should concern everyone.

Jim Irvine and Chad D. Baus are the Buckeye Firearms Association Chairman and Vice Chairman, respectively.

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