Florida threatens criminals with up to life in prison if they use a gun, but few suspects in Orange County get tough mandatory penalties even as the campaign to end gun violence enters its 10th year, reports the Orlando Sentinel. Only 5 percent of 7,437 suspects arrested on gun charges from 2003 through 2007 received mandatory sentences. The record is even worse for suspects arrested with an AK-47 or other assault weapons, military-style rifles that police say warrant the most serious punishment when misused. Under 2 percent of such cases in Orange County produced mandatory terms.
The state’s 10-20-Life law, signed by Gov. Jeb Bush in 1999 — promised crime-weary voters that armed criminals would face long, no-bargain prison terms. Florida spent $500,000 on newspaper, radio and TV ads spreading the message: “Pull a gun: 10 years. Fire a gun: 20 years. Shoot someone: 25 years to life.” Despite tough talk, murders involving guns continue to rise. As of last Saturday, 120 killings had been committed in Orange County so far this year, dangerously close to the record of 121 set in 2006. The Sentinel describes a local case under the law in which a man was arrested when drug agents seized a fully automatic assault rifle, a pistol and 16 grams of crack cocaine. A felon with six prior arrests, he ended up spending just 23 days in jail in a plea bargain.