Taking aim at youth gun violence

  • Article by: RODRIGO ZAMITH , Star Tribune
  • Updated: May 21, 2008 - 5:35 AM

A new initiative for Minneapolis and Hennepin County will increase penalties for juveniles caught with firearms, both replica and real.

Minneapolis Mayor R.T. Rybak spoke about the need for more jobs this summer as one of the ways to stem gun possession by Minneapolis youth. “Our goal is to keep kids from carrying a gun in the first place.” Rybak was framed by a sculpture of seized guns entitled “Phoenix Rising”

Photo: Richard Sennott, Star Tribune

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Minneapolis and Hennepin County officials hope to reduce juvenile gun crime this summer by stiffening penalties for youths caught with BB guns, real guns or replicas.

The new Juvenile Gun Offender Initiative was announced Tuesday by Minneapolis Mayor R.T. Rybak, Hennepin County Attorney Michael Freeman and others. It will also increase enforcement of youth curfew laws, replica firearms ordinances and supervision of juveniles on probation for gun offenses.

The new rules apply to offenders between 10 and 17 years old. First-time offenders with a real gun will be given probation, four to six weeks of out-of-home placement and 40 hours of education on the dangers and effects of guns. If the requirements aren't met, youths will be given four to six months of out-of-home placement.

Penalties for repeat offenders can go as high as 15 months of out-of-home placement and probation.

"Our goal in instituting tougher consequences is not to put more kids into the criminal justice system," Rybak said. "Our goal is to keep kids from carrying a gun in the first place."

According to police statisticians, there have been 16 incidents in Minneapolis where a gun was used by juveniles in crimes through the first quarter of 2008. In another 73 incidents, weapons were recovered when juveniles were arrested. In 2007, there were 219 such incidents.

"Arresting for concealed weapons is something that has been tied to reductions in gun crime," said Chris Uggen, a University of Minnesota criminologist.

Tracina Coward, 20, said she supported the new measures, but felt that social programs were being shortchanged.

"You close my park and rec place, and now you're adding more officers," said the north Minneapolis resident. "Which one do you think would benefit me more?"

Coward, who works with the Minneapolis Youth Congress, instead advocated for increased funding of diversion programs, or at least a better balance. She said job training and placement programs are critical for vulnerable communities.

According to Jeremy Hanson, Rybak's communications director, the mayor agrees that more summer jobs are needed and is actively pursuing more partners for his Step Up program, which recruits and trains youths, and partners with private employers who give them jobs.

Rodrigo Zamith • 612-673-4895

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