Officials announce initiative to reduce gun crime in Michigan

Federal courts often hand out stiffer penalties to those convicted of a violent crime than Michigan law would allow, and representatives of some federal law enforcement agencies were joined by the mayor of Detroit on June 1 to announce an initiative against gun violence that could see more of the city's violent offenders facing federal sanctions. Detroit has been the scene of approximately 1,500 shootings in each of the last three years, and it hoped that a public awareness campaign highlighting the federal mandatory minimum sentences for gun crimes will help to lower this number.

Under federal law, individuals convicted on weapons charges face severe penalties. A felon could be sentenced to five years in a federal prison for being in possession of a firearm, and a sentence of 25 years may be handed down to a felon who uses a gun while committing a violent crime. An offender may face federal prosecution if they have been convicted of at least one violent crime and are caught in possession of a gun.

The initiative is the latest in a series of efforts by state and federal authorities to reduce gun crime in Detroit. A similar campaign targeting individuals who use firearms during vehicle thefts is thought to have played a significant role in reducing carjacking in the city by about a third.

While mandatory minimum sentences may be lauded by law enforcement agencies and local officials, they have been sharply criticized by civil rights groups and criminal defense attorneys. Mandatory sentencing has been called a one-dimensional solution to a multifaceted problem, and critics argue that such policies tie the hands of judges. When the evidence against a defendant is compelling and mandatory minimum sentences are involved, defense attorneys may seek to reduce the severity of the charges or penalties during plea agreement negotiations.