Fresno promotes anti-gun (abuse) law

’10-20-Life’ media campaign under way in hopes of deterring crimes involving guns.

January 2, 2003

“Use a gun — and you’re done.”

People in Fresno will notice the message on bumper stickers, storefront posters and television commercials beginning this month.

If the anti-gun slogan has the impact law enforcement officials hope, it will deter crime.

Under provisions of California’s gun-enhancement sentencing law known as “10-20-Life,” use a gun in the commission of a crime and spend more time behind bars.

Displaying a gun during a crime adds 10 years to the prison sentence, 20 years if a gun is fired and 25 years to life if someone is shot.

The law applies to people ages 14 or older, but police officers say teenagers and young adults are least likely to be aware of the penalties for brandishing or using a firearm.

“There’s no doubt in my mind that there’s some people who have never heard of 10-20-Life, and we’re hoping the mere thought of spending anywhere from 10 years to their entire life in prison for using a gun in a criminal act will cause people to think twice before acting,” said Lt. Pat Farmer of the Fresno Police Department.

Police cars will sport the 10-20-Life stickers on their bumpers as one way to promote the law.

Although the law he conceived took effect five years ago, Mike Reynolds, a Fresno wedding photographer, decided 10-20-Life wasn’t getting the attention it needs to be a crime deterrent. A multimedia campaign was his idea to draw attention to the law.

Reynolds believes educating the public will reduce criminal offenses involving guns. Reynolds is best known as the catalyst behind the highly visible “Three Strikes” sentencing law for repeat offenders. Under Three Strikes, felons previously convicted of two serious or violent crimes receive a 25-years-to-life term and serve it before being eligible for parole.

Reynolds pushed for the sentencing law and followed that up with the 10-20-Life gun-enhancement bill after his 18-year-old daughter, Kimber, was shot and killed in 1992 by a man who was out of prison on parole.

Reynolds decided to launch a barrage of posters and bumper stickers and television announcements about 10-20-Life after receiving blank stares from high school and college students when he queried them about the gun-enhancement provisions.

“That’s the very group that needs to understand this law,” he said. “Criminals coming out of prison are pretty up on it.”

The 14-, 15- or 16-year-olds who are leaning toward a life of violent crime are the ones who need to know the consequences of using a gun in a robbery or assault, he said.

Whether bold posters of a gray handgun on a white background with information about “10-20-Life — It’s the law” will deter teenagers from committing violent crimes remains subject for debate.

Fresno police’s Farmer cites crime statistics in support of an information and education campaign about 10-20-Life. Immediately after the passage of the law in 1998, violent crimes involving firearms dropped, Farmer said. Publicity about the new law was prominent five years ago. In the five years since the law’s debut, crimes with guns increased by as much as 79% for some offenses.

For example, Fresno police statistics show that 326 assaults in Fresno involving guns occurred in 1999, as compared with 506 assaults with firearms as of the last week of 2002, a 55% increase. In 1992, 19 homicides involved guns, compared with 34 in 2002 — a 79% increase. And robberies involving guns increased by 65%, from 309 in 1999 to 509 in 2002.

Fresno County Probation Chief Larry Price doubts that focusing attention on 10-20-Life with flashy bumper stickers, posters and commercials will stop criminals from using guns.

“The campaign may have some real positive effects, but after 35 years in the business, I’m not sure of the deterrence factor,” he said.

What the law does do, Price said, is lock up offenders. “That’s what I think is the most important part of this law.”

Few oppose longer sentences for gun-wielding felons, but some defense attorneys say 10-20-Life isn’t a perfect law.

“The most serious flaw is it does not give the judge any discretion. It’s a mandatory thing,” said Garrick Byers, senior defense attorney at the Fresno County Public Defenders Office. Without this type of safety valve, “there are some injustices under this law that are happening, in my opinion,” he said.

Reynolds said 10-20-Life, born in Fresno, has higher public approval ratings statewide than the Three Strikes law.

He got help printing 10-20-Life stickers and posters from local businesses and the Fig Garden Rotary, he said. Putting posters in strip malls, convenience stores and gas stations should deter crime in those locations, he said.

Business owners appreciate the cost of violent crime to business, he said.

“A guy can have insurance against a robbery, insurance against a fire, insurance against even an earthquake these days. But how do you have insurance against someone being murdered out in front of your business?”

Thirty-second 10-20-Life television promotions, which began airing on San Joaquin Valley stations about three weeks ago, convey a striking anti-crime message, said Eddie Cadena, KGPE Channel 47 news executive producer.

“The response here in the newsroom is that they look really effective,” he said. “They had a high impact on us, so we hope they have the same impact on the community as well.”

Once school resumes next week, Farmer said, police school-resource officers will speak at school assemblies and pass out fliers to help increase awareness of 10-20-Life.

The idea behind the media blitz is simple, Reynolds said: “It’s pretty hard for people to obey a law if they don’t know they’re breaking it.”