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Stricter Gun-Sentencing Bill Passes Illinois House

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M. Spencer Green/AP
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Tougher sentences for repeat gun offenders passed the Illinois House by a 70-41 vote Monday.

The bill says if you're convicted of a gun crime more than once, then you face up to 14 years in prison.

The measure, intended to help curb violence in Chicago, won approval after a contentious two-hour debate.

The plan would prompt judges to prescribe longer terms within existing guidelines for individuals charged with illegal firearm possession multiple times. It also would introduce a diversion program for young first-time offenders and reduce incarceration for certain drug offenses.

Numerous lawmakers said that stricter sentencing would incarcerate minorities disproportionately without addressing deeply rooted issues underlying violence in Chicago.

Several African American representatives -- like Sonya Harper, D-Chicago -- voted against it.

“It leads to more mass incarceration,” she said, “and does nothing to address the root causes of gun violence.”

But House Republican Leader Jim Durkin, the bill’s sponsor, said the measure would sunset in five years, so if it doesn’t slow down Chicago’s gun violence, it will end.

“If it doesn’t work, don’t expect my support,” he said. “But this is a start of trying to do something to stop this plague of violence which we pick up and read in the newspapers on a daily basis.”

In a sign of how contentious this bill is, after the measure passed a Democratic representative who voted for the measure filed a motion requesting another vote so it can’t yet advance to the Senate.