Project Exile Gun Act Proposed In House

July 7, 2008 - 7:02 PM

( - The effort to reduce gun violence without introducing new gun control laws got a boost on Capitol Hill Wednesday. Congressman Bill McCollum (R-Florida), chairman of a House subcommittee on crime, introduced a bill designed to reduce gun crimes by enforcing laws already on the books and by mandating tougher prison sentences for criminals who use guns.

The legislation -- entitled "Project Exile: The Safe Streets and Neighborhoods Act of 2000" -- is modeled on a successful Richmond, Virginia program that has won high praise for reducing gun violence in that city.

McCollum told a Capitol Hill news conference, "We do not have the kind of tough sentencing and mandatory sentencing that we need to have throughout this country with regard to those who commit crimes with guns or those who carry guns after they've been convicted or those who might otherwise be sitting in jail somewhere and they're not."

"This bill that we are introducing today," McCollum said, "is a bill that would require mandatory minimum sentences of five years for any person who uses or carries a firearm
during or in relation to a violent crime" - including murder, rape, robbery, aggravated assault or a serious drug trafficking offense.

As an incentive for states to beef up gun-crime penalties, the bill provides $100 million over the next five years to be distributed to qualifying cities in the form of block grants.

To qualify for the federal money, the states would have to require a mandatory minimum sentence, without parole, for anyone who uses or carries a firearm in any violent crime or serious drug trafficking offense; or for a violent convict who is caught possessing a gun.

The state would also have to launch a public awareness campaign to make violent criminals aware of the tough sentences for gun crimes.

Qualifying states, according to McCollum, would be able to use the federal money to strengthen their criminal and juvenile justice systems in a variety of ways: hiring and training more judges, prosecutors and probation officers; increasing prison capacity; and developing information sharing case management systems to build case files for serious offenders.

Virginia and five other states, Texas, Florida, Colorado, Louisiana and South Carolina, are the only states with laws currently on the books that would make them eligible for the federal money.

McCollum introduced his bill a day after House Democrats introduced a gun enforcement bill that also contained elements of the Project Exile program.

When asked about the Democrats trying to head off the Republicans on the issue, McCollum said, "I'm not worried about how many people put in copycat bills. We've been working on this for quite some time."