Indiana state senator renews push for automatic 20-year sentence for violent gun crimes

INDIANAPOLIS - The shooting death of an Indianapolis police officer has sparked at least one state lawmaker into action.

Indiana State Senator Jim Merritt (R-31) plans to re-introduce a bill that would lead to harsher penalties for criminals who use guns.

It’s a bill Merritt tried to get passed during the last legislative session, and one that would lead to an automatic 20-year sentence for any person who commits a violent crime with a gun.

Merritt said the shooting death of IMPD officer Perry Renn and the mass shooting in Broad Ripple this weekend are both catalysts in his decision.

He argues criminals are well aware of the ins and outs of sentencing laws: They know that right now, it’s an automatic five-year sentence if they seriously injure a victim with a gun.

"They say, 'Oh, I'll do five and I'll be out in 2 1/2.' And they're willing to do that to get what they need," Merritt said.

Merritt says the threat of an even longer prison term will cause them to think deeper about their decisions.

That’s why Merritt says he also wants the automatic 20-year sentence to apply to criminals who use a gun during a robbery, car-jacking or sex crime, even if no one is hurt to send "a strong message that if you even brandish a gun in the commission of a crime, you are at least going away for 20 years."

Some other lawmakers in Indiana did not agree with this legislation last session and opted to instead pass bills that gave a judge the ability to tack on 20 years, but didn’t make that mandatory.

Merritt believes things may change this time around, however, saying “enough is enough” and “we cannot sit by and let this senseless gun violence continue.”

Some people told RTV6 a 20-year mandatory sentence is too extreme.

"Maybe if you lowered it down to maybe 10 years or something like that. But 20 years, depending on what case it could be, the situation, you never know the situation, 10 years maybe," said Indianapolis resident Tempestt Forrest. "But I could understand that's maybe a way to stop people from using guns for crime. So I can understand maybe that would stop them, but I think that still may be a little bit too much."

Others said they'd support Merritt's initiative.

"I think it's a good law. It's something that we see a lot of times is repeat offenders that are out on the street doing the same thing over and over again," said Indianapolis resident Chris Presley. "So if you stiffen the punishment on the crime, hopefully that puts a second thought in people's mind before doing some of these stupid acts that they're doing."

RTV6 reached out to the Indiana Department of Correction for comment on the measure, and a spokesperson said it's too soon to tell how the legislation would affect jail overcrowding.

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