Indiana House backs tougher penalties for gun crimes

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The Indiana House has advanced a measure allowing judges to impose tougher sentences for anyone convicted of using a gun in a violent crime.

The House approved a proposal from Republican Sen. Jim Merritt of Indianapolis that would allow a court to add between five and 20 years to a sentence in a violent gun crime.

The measure would also make it illegal to provide a gun to someone who plans to commit a crime.

House members amended the bill Thursday to also establish a study committee that would review ways to reduce gun violence across Indiana. The Senate earlier approved a similar version of the bill.

Mayor Greg Ballard testified at the Indiana Statehouse this week in support of tougher penalties. Indianapolis is on record pace for homicides for the third consecutive year. Mayor Ballard says current penalties for using a gun are just the cost of doing business for criminals and that has to change.

"Criminals who brandish a gun during their crime do so to instill fear in their victims and it is time for our laws to instill fear in them.  If you use a gun during the commission of a crime in Indiana, you should spend at least a generation behind bars," Mayor Ballard testified.

The mayor referred to the Black Expo shootings three years ago when nine people were shot by a gunman who only served two years and eight months out of an eight-year sentence. And he referenced a north side home invasion last fall where the main suspect only served two years of a 16-year prison sentence.

In the last two years, Mayor Ballard testified, 80 percent of the homicides committed in Indianapolis were committed with a gun.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.