People who use guns to commit crimes in Minneapolis could face longer prison sentences because of a new law enforcement effort announced Thursday.
Federal, state and local officials say they're teaming up to create something they call Project Exile Minneapolis. Under the program, criminals who use and sell guns could face longer federal sentences. Law enforcement officials say it is a strategy that has worked before and one they hope can work again.
U.S. Attorney B. Todd Jones says his office will team up the Hennepin County Attorney for Project Exile Minneapolis. Jones said staffers from each office will comprise a team that will look at gun arrests in Minneapolis.
"We will make some determinations as to whether or not it is appropriate to bring felons in possession of firearms into federal court where they can face some serious consequences," he said. "There are federal statutes that have mandatory minimum sentences of up to 15 years."
Project Exile also targets illegal gun suppliers known as 'straw purchasers.' They're people who legally buy guns and sell them to others who are not supposed to have them.
B.J. Zapor, the special agent in charge for the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, said most guns used in crimes in Minnesota are purchased in the state.
He said the his agency can find straw purchasers who fill out forms when they buy more than one gun in a day.
Zapor didn't have an estimate of how many illegal guns are on the streets in Minneapolis, but he did say there are fewer here than in most major cities.
Police Chief Tim Dolan said his department confiscates between 1,000 and 1,500 illegal guns each year. Dolan estimates that's resulted in about 150 illegal gun cases brought to the Hennepin County Attorney.
Dolan said the threat of longer sentences for gun-related crimes is a deterrent. He said he's glad to see the latest collaboration with the federal prosecutors.
"What we seem to have lost from our success in the late '90s and even three or four years ago is that fear of carrying a gun and being caught with a gun on the street," he said.
Dolan and other police officials have said that some of the violence this year is being committed by people who've already been to prison. In some cases ex-cons come out of jail looking to retaliate against their rivals.
Mary Johnson is the founder of two support groups for parents whose children have either been killed or have killed someone else. Johnson's son was murdered 17 years ago.
She warned that the violence won't stop unless the people who commit violence get help while they're locked up.
"I've found out that rehabilitation is not a word in the prison system," she said. "Programs have been cut. Those programs need to be back in the prison system.
"Because those young men and those young women that have left our community are coming back to our community. And we do not want them to come back the same way they left."
Johnson also expressed her condolences to the mother of a man recently shot and killed in south Minneapolis.
"We are sick of the violence in our communities," she said.
Police say the 26-year-old man is the city's 29th homicide victim - which is 10 more than all of last year.
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