Illinois governor signs bill targeting repeat gun offenders

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[June 24, 2017]  By Timothy Mclaughlin

CHICAGO (Reuters) - Repeat gun offenders in Illinois will face longer prison sentences under a bill Governor Bruce Rauner signed into law on Friday that aims to curb gun violence in Chicago, which has long struggled with street shootings and violent crime.

Rauner, a Republican, signed the bill in Springfield alongside Chicago Police Department Superintendent Eddie Johnson, who has championed the legislation.

"I firmly believe this bill is the first step in creating a culture, a real culture of accountability in Chicago, among gun offenders and will make someone think twice about picking up a gun before they ever use it," Johnson said.

The law will move the sentences for some repeat gun crimes to a range of seven to 14 years, from a previous three to 14 years. A judge wanting to hand down a lesser sentence would need to explain why in a written statement.

Chicago, a city of 2.7 million, has had 303 murders this year, down slightly from 304 over the same period last year, according to police figures. The number of shootings has dropped 15 percent to 1,277 this year.

The law was a rare point of agreement between Chicago's Democratic mayor, Rahm Emanuel, and Rauner, who have clashed recently over the handling of the state's historic budget impasse.

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A Cook County Sheriff police officer holds an assault rifle recovered in an alley in the Austin neighborhood in Chicago, Illinois, United States, September 9, 2015. REUTERS/Jim Young/File Photo

"Improving public safety is everyone's responsibility, and this law will help make neighborhoods across Illinois stronger, safer and more secure," Emanuel said in a statement.

Critics of the measure said it fails to adequately address the underlying issues driving Chicago's violence.

"We believe that this violence, and the resulting stress and trauma, is both a public health and community mental health issue, and as such, would be best served by economic, public health, and social service interventions and approaches," Stephanie Schmitz Bechteler, executive director of the research and policy center at the Chicago Urban League, which opposed the law, said by email.

(Additional reporting by Dave McKinney; Editing by Tom Brown)

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