WILMINGTON, NC (WECT) – For the first time, Wilmington Police Chief Ralph Evangelous spoke about a bill that could make gun laws tougher in North Carolina.
Evangelous presented the plan to state and local lawmakers Friday. He outlined various recommendations addressing "growing gun violence and gang activity."
"This isn't unique to Wilmington, this is a statewide issue," Evangelous said. "I believe that with the increase in violence we saw last summer and into the fall, we want to get ahead of this. We need the ability to be able to take these violent offenders off the street."
Evangelous asked legislators to help increase the penalties for the illegal possession of fire arms by criminals.
One of his recommendations increases a Class 2 misdemeanor to an A1 misdemeanor for individuals carrying a concealed hand gun illegally. That means first time offenders and subsequent offenders could receive a maximum of 150 days in jail.
"We see this on a regular basis. We're arresting individuals illegally carrying fire arms, and they're back out on the street and they're involved in other criminal activity," Evangelous said. "We need to be able to stop it in its tracks and we think it'd have a positive, long-term impact."
He believes judges need the power to incarcerate first-time offenders to help law enforcement get a handle on the violence.
"We need something that works now, immediately, and gives the judges the option of taking them off the street." Evangelous said.
Under the same proposed law, Evangelous addressed possession of a firearm by a convicted felon. He recommended an increase in penalties from a Class G felony to a Class F felony, meaning first time offenders could receive a maximum of 13 to 16 months in jail.
"These are individuals who are felons and are illegally carrying guns out there. We get them a lot. They don't get any jail time," Evangelous said. "Occasionally we get the federal government to prosecute them, which would get them off the street, which then reduces the violent crime when it's happening out there."
State lawmakers who attended Friday's meeting, Rep. Susi Hamilton, Rep. Ted Davis, Rep. Rick Catlin and Sen. Thom Goolsby, were open to sponsoring the bill but needed more information. Goolsby also suggested aggravating factors be added to parts of the proposal.
"To accelerate the punishment for people who meet a number of prior factors and to see to it we reserve special jail space for them," Goolsby said. "We'll definitely profile people who are prior criminals, people who are involved in gang activity. We'll come after them and look to put them in jail for as long as we possibly can."
For the next steps of the process, Goolsby wants Chief Evangelous to meet with his Justice and Public Safety Oversight Committee. Goolsby believes committee members will be very receptive to Evangelous' requests.
Officials say this bill will have no affect on citizens carrying concealed weapons legally.
"They're not the problem. In fact, since we liberalized our concealed carry laws in North Carolina we have seen gun crime go down 50 percent," Goolsby said. "It's the criminals with guns who we want to take guns away from, and that's who we're going to concentrate on."
Davis says the financial side of the bill will need to be analyzed. Davis told Evangelous he will have to come up with an impact statement, outlining how incarceration costs would affect the state budge. However, Senator Goolsby did not think funds would be a problem.
"We never have a problem finding the money for incarcerating people who are committing crimes," Goolsby said. "Particularly those who are involved in gang, criminal activity, harming innocent people, violence crimes. We're going to see to it we have all the space we need…to be able to lock these people up."
Assistant City Attorney Meredith Everhart has reportedly prepared draft legislation for the upcoming legislative session in Raleigh.
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