08/97 McCollum Amendment To H.R. 424

— Send GOA your own horror stories

by Gun Owners of America
8001 Forbes Place, Suite 102
Springfield, VA 22151
(703) 321-8585, fax: 321-8408

Tuesday, August 26, 1997

As you may remember, Republicans on the Judiciary Committee attempted to dramatically expand the jurisdiction of the BATF last year by massively increasing the mandatory minimum prison sentences applicable to gun owners. The bill containing that expansion, H.R. 1488, was stopped dead in its tracks by the diligence of GOA’s members.

That bill is now back, in the form of the McCollum amendment to H.R. 424, although in a less damaging version.

First, the good news: As a result of the efforts of thousands of gun owners to alert their congressmen, the parts of last year’s bill which would have federalized most serious state crimes and massively expanded the jurisdiction of the BATF have been dropped.

This is not to say that the McCollum amendment is perfect. In those limited situations where the feds already have jurisdiction, such as a military reservation, the McCollum amendment would impose a 15-year mandatory minimum prison sentence on a person who merely “brandishes” a firearm during and in relation to a crime of violence.

In 1996, GOA reported on a Pennsylvania man who took a licensed firearm from his glove compartment and merely laid it on his passenger-side seat in view of an individual who was attempting to force him off an interstate highway. The other individual never even claimed that the man had pointed the gun at him. Nevertheless, state authorities charged the gun owner with intent to “brandish a firearm” and “threatening same which served no legitimate purpose.”

If federal authorities had jurisdiction over such an incident under H.R. 424, the gun owner could face a mandatory minimum sentence of 15 years in prison for brandishing a firearm during and in relation to a crime of violence — a “crime of violence” because he “threatened use of physical force against the person or property of another.”

Good people go to jail after shooting thugs

The penalties under H.R. 424 escalate (up to 20 years) when the gun owner actually fires his gun to deter a violent attack. Gun owners like Bernie Goetz (the New York City “subway gunman”) have been prosecuted for defending themselves in life-threatening situations. Law-abiding citizens have been prosecuted — and convicted — because a robber or mugger had momentarily turned away from the defender, perhaps to flee, or perhaps to locate a weapon. Prosecutors frequently force jurors to question these split-second decisions that are made in the heat of the moment and determine whether a gun owner was, in the eyes of the law, justified in discharging his firearm in defense of self, family, and others. Under H.R. 424, a clever prosecutor can send the unwitting victim to jail for a MINIMUM of 20 years for having discharged a firearm in the direction of an attacker.

Consider a recent example where a mandatory minimum sentence is sending a decent citizen to jail after she shot a crook in her store. The New Gun Week (August 10 and 20, 1997) reports that an Arizona store clerk was recently convicted of shooting a beer thief. Maria Hernandez-Jaimes said she knew of Johnny Gonzalez’s violent reputation, and when he entered the market on her first night working alone in three years, she reached in fear for the gun under the counter. She claims she lowered the gun and it went off accidentally, shooting the thief in the back as he was stealing the beer.

While the jury convicted her on “technical” grounds because the shot entered the thief’s back, jurors were outraged to find out that the conviction guaranteed Maria a mandatory jail sentence. Jurors were “stunned” and “pleaded” with the judge to keep Maria out of jail. But the law in this case ties the judge’s hands.

As noted by The New Gun Week:

Because of mandatory minimum sentencing guidelines, the conviction means at least 1 1/2 years in prison. Because a gun was involved, she could be sentenced to as much as three years in prison. This is one of the downsides of mandatory sentencing for “gun crimes” . . . . Some jurors said they would have voted to acquit Hernandez-Jaimes had they known she would serve time.

Under H.R. 424, Maria would face a MINIMUM of 20 years in jail, if the shooting occurred anywhere where federal authorities have jurisdiction.

Send GOA your own horror stories

Incidents like the ones above, where decent citizens have found their lives turned into a nightmare by overzealous prosecutors intent on securing convictions on mere technical grounds (as opposed to moral attempts to see that justice is served), become highly visible “real-life” examples of the unintended consequences of gun control.

In order to counter the hysteria of the gun-grabbers we must show that tragic miscarriages of justice abound. As responsible gun owners, we must demonstrate that the true victims are often the people who, under a different application of the law, would be regarded as heroes.

To that end we are asking our members and supporters to come forward with their own experiences. If you have been unfairly prosecuted for using a gun in self-defense, or know someone who has, please consider sharing the story with GOA.

We are looking mainly to amass examples of cases that have already been finalized by the courts. However, ongoing prosecutions will also be looked at. In some instances the Gun Owners Foundation might be able to provide some assistance.

Please let us know the details of your particular situation via fax or e-mail. It is imperative that we have such concrete evidence as we move to force committee hearings on pro-gun legislation such as H.R. 27 (Bartlett, R-MD). H.R. 27, the Citizens’ Self-Defense Act, would go a long way toward protecting law-abiding gun owners from just the sort of overzealous prosecution mentioned above.