Durham County

Durham won’t back stiffer gun-theft penalties

Durham City Council members withheld the city’s support Monday night of Durham County Sheriff Mike Andrews’ proposal to stiffen penalties for the theft of firearms.

The council voted 4-3 against adding the sheriff’s proposal to an “advocacy agenda” they will ask Durham legislators to press during the coming General Assembly session.

Andrews wants the legislature to raise firearm larceny and the sale or receipt of a stolen firearm to a Class E felony: the same level of crime as shooting into occupied property, assaulting a law-enforcement officer with a firearm and second-degree kidnapping.

“Do we really want to move a crime against property into the same category as a crime against a person?” said Councilman Steve Schewel, who opposed supporting the measure.

Andrews’ proposal also adds 72 months to prison terms for felonies committed with a stolen firearm.

Durham County commissioners adopted the proposal in their 2015 legislative goals last fall. The commissioners, however, have not yet presented the goals to Durham’s legislative delegation.

Andrews said he suggested the changes in response to an increase in gun thefts in the county.

Besides Schewel, council members Diane Catotti, Eddie Davis and Don Moffitt voted against backing the proposal.

Mayor Bill Bell, Mayor Pro Tem Cora Cole-McFadden and council member Eugene Brown voted in favor.

In other business, the council adopted a resolution of welcome for Latin American children who arrive in Durham unaccompanied by their parents.

More than 300 such children reside in Durham, according to Durham Public Schools data cited in the resolution.

With the resolution, “We make it clear Durham is a city that welcomes all people,” Schewel said.

According to the resolution, there has been a “dramatic” recent increase in unaccompanied children arriving in the United States to escape poverty and violence in their countries.