US leaders at all levels seek ways to stop crime surge
Statistics on violent crime in the United States, including murders in which handguns were used, surged in 1980. Now there is a countersurge of efforts, at least at the state and local levels, to do something about the situation.
According to the Uniform Crime Report of the Federal Bureau of Investigation, violent crime increased 10 percent for the first six months of 1980 over the rate for the same period in 1979.
Perhaps the widest coverage given to any violent crime in 1980 was the killing of singer John Lennon by a handgunwielding assassin.
Amid the outcry after the event, President-elect Ronald Reagan reiterated his opposition to national gun-control legislation. He said that "adding 5 to 15 years" to prison sentences of those who use guns in committing crimes is the best answer to such violent crimes.
This position squares to a certain extent with a view held by Handgun Control Inc., one of the leading gun control organizations. Henry Bashin, a spokesman for the group, told the Monitor, "We favor additional punishment" for those who commit crimes with handguns. Hangun Control stands ready and eager to help a new Reagan administration press for legislation providing for tougher penalties for the commission of federal crimes such as bank robbery and narcotics trafficking, he said.
But gun control advocates will continue to seek strong national legislation similar to a bill drafted by Sen. Edward M. Kennedy (D) of Massachusetts last year. It was stalled in committee and died when the 1980 congressional session ended. The Kennedy bill would require a "waiting period" after a gun is bought, so that officials can check the record of the purchaser before the individual actually takes possession.
Present federal law says only that a handgun purchaser must fill out an application.
In 1979 there were 10,728 handgun homicides in the US, nearly half of all murders committed in the nation.
Reacting to the role of handguns in violent crimes in New York State, the state legislature passed and Gov. Hugh Carey signed on June 13 what he and other supporters have called "the toughest gun control legislation in the nation." Like a Massachusetts gun law enacted in the early 1970s, this one provides a one-year jail sentence for anyone caught with an unlicensed, loaded gun.
Earlier, in 1978, New York began a special program aimed at curbing violent crime by repeat offenders. So-called "career criminals" have been given longer sentences under this policy.
In his "state of the state" message Jan 7, Governor Carey pledged to take the battle against violent crime a step further by submitting to the legislature a series of anticrime bills, including appropriation of $10.4 million to hire 300 additional state police specifically to fight violent crime in the stre ets.