Senate Bill 279 isn’t going anywhere, according to the bill’s author Sen. James Merritt, R-Indianapolis. “It will not be heard in committee this session and will not become law this year,” he said. Known as the “Nathan Trapuzzano bill” after the 24-year-old Indianapolis resident was found slain on the city’s Westside in April of 2014, the bill sought to enact tougher penalties for the unlawful possession of handguns by individuals at least 14 years of age, among other offenses.
The bill stated juvenile courts would not have jurisdiction over an individual at least 14 years of age who carries a handgun without a license; or who uses a firearm in the commission of an offense. It also aimed to reclassify communicating a threat with the intent to cause the evacuation of school property or a hospital, which is currently a Class A misdemeanor, into a Level 6 felony.
Merritt, who authored the bill with Sen. Randall Head, R-Logansport, and co-author Sen. Jeff Raatz, R-Centerville, said lawmakers should send a strong message to teens that gun crime is serious business.
“There have been numerous teenagers who have been arrested for possessing a gun in the instigation of a crime,” said Merritt. “Number one on my wavelength is Nathan Trapuzzano and his murder. People say he (Simeon Adams) was 16 when he murdered Nathan.”
When asked why the bill’s language specifically targeted those 14 and older, Merritt pointed out that Adams had been in and out of the juvenile court system several times.
As far as other documentation to support the age range, Merrit said the authors’ reasoning was based on “anecdotal evidence.” “It’s been very difficult getting information through the system of the Internet, for instance the Supreme Court uses something called Odyssey but that system is not used by juvenile court so I can’t give you any basis of numbers regarding this,” said Merritt. “This all really developed out of the media talking about teenagers and juvenile crime and the use of guns.”
SB 279 was endorsed by Trapuzzano’s widow Jennifer who voiced her support in a blog post last month. “This bill was written by Sen. Merritt with my husband’s murder as the motivation. Nate’s murderer was only 16 and yet had been in and out of the juvenile system far too many times without any accountability for his criminal actions. Because of a system failure, he was able to roam the streets freely and kill my husband on the morning of April 1,” she wrote. “Now I know there is nothing that can bring Nate back, although I so often wish I could. I also can’t say for certain that had this bill been in place last year it would have prevented Nate’s murder. I can say this – if it can save one family from the devastation we have had to suffer, then it is worth every single minute of my time, and yours, to get it passed.”
Brandon Randall, site director for Bloom Project Inc. an area non-profit agency that provides mentoring and personal-development programming for adolescent males, said his opposition to the bill stemmed from numerous issues. “The hard part about opposing this is that it will appear as if there is no sensitivity to families or the victim which is why I am most concerned,” said Randall. “The issue that’s causing the most opposition is the age of the focus, 14 year olds – the age of an 8th grader. Simeon Adams was 16; he wasn’t even a 14-year-old. The problem with sending a 14-year-old through the adult court system is if a 14-year-old is sent to an adult jail or prison – statistics show they are 36 times more likely to commit suicide and 8 times more likely to be sexually assaulted. There are also increased recidivism rates.”
Randall said when dealing with young people it is imperative to analyze the root causes of violent behavior. “With youth it can’t be superficial – it can’t be ‘Oh they had a gun, lock them up and throw away the key.’ It’s not that simple.”
Merritt said his game plan is to continue to shine a spotlight on juvenile crime. “I will continue to talk about teenagers with guns, teenagers threatening schools, teenagers who need a strong parental hand on their shoulder,” he said. “The overall essence of juvenile crime is something I believe we need to keep at the top of mind.”