The public-service spot begins with the wail of a police siren as Autry suddenly appears in front of some police cars with their cherry tops flashing. "California has just begun enforcing the toughest law in the land on criminals who use guns," Bubba intones. "So if you know a punk with a gun who thinks hes tough, let him know this law is tougher. If youre 14 years old or older, and you pull a gun to commit a crime, youre going to get an extra 10 years. If you pull the trigger, youre going to get an extra 20. And if you shoot someone live or die youre going to spend the rest of your life in prison." Then the offscreen voice of an announcer fades in: "10-20-Life the law is here," he says to the reverberations of a jail-cell door clanging shut.
"Ive got tapes in Spanish, too," Reynolds informs me as he slides a second version of the same message into the VCR, this one showing grainy surveillance videos of actual armed robberies in progress, and ending with Bubba saying, "Use a gun and youre done."
"If these had been produced by a commercial firm, it would have cost close to $100,000," says Reynolds, a self-employed wedding photographer whos become Californias most successful citizen-activist since Howard Jarvis shoved Proposition 13 down the throats of Jerry Brown and the state Legislature in 1978. "But we did them for nothing. And theyll run all over the state as soon as funding comes through. Requests have been made" with accompanying letters from Governor Pete Wilson, Attorney General Dan Lungren and Secretary of State Bill Jones "asking all the major TV stations to run the tapes for free. But," Reynolds adds, "almost nobody is airing them. In L.A. weve even had [District Attorney] Gil Garcetti walk us into TV stations, but nothings worked. So what we have to do is make a buy."
At 54, Reynolds, a short, bald, big-bellied man, is full of such grand ideas, which he will promulgate, unsolicited, at a moments notice. Unlike most big talkers, however, Reynolds delivers. To make the videos, for example, he persuaded a small local production company to shoot the commercial for free, and got Autry to recite the script Reynolds himself had written.
During the past six years now, such issues have not just been Mike Reynolds crusade; theyve been his obsession ever since the murder of his 18-year-old daughter, Kimber. In the summer of 1992, as she was opening her car door outside a fashionable Fresno restaurant called the Daily Planet, two men on a stolen gray Kawasaki motorcycle pulled up next to her and grabbed at her purse. When she resisted, one of them shot her dead in the head with a .357 Magnum.
Since then, a video of her death has been playing endlessly in Reynolds head, compelling him, as he puts it, to "sweep the criminal garbage off the streets." The passage of both the "10-20-Life" law and Californias "three strikes" statute are living testaments to the depth of his commitment.
Mike Reynolds "three strikes" law is distinguished from those of other states by its imposition of a radical form of preventive detention that locks up often young, often nonviolent petty criminals for decades. ("During the time," Reynolds points out, "when they would have, or easily could have, committed violent crimes.") Today, more than 35,000 inmates almost one-quarter of Californias prison population are currently doing time on second and third strikes. Over 80 percent of those now serving ä 25-to-life on a third strike are doing so for a nonviolent crime for stealing a pair of sunglasses, say, or possessing a small amount of drugs, or writing a bad check.
"10-20-Life" is equally draconian. Under its provisions, just as Bubba tells it in the TV spot, anyone pulling a gun during the commission of a crime will have an additional 10-year "enhancement" tacked on to whatever sentence would have been handed down for the actual crime. And, like the "three strikes" law, "10-20-Life" mandates that the individual circumstances of a crime not be taken into account by judges, resulting in throw-away-the-key sentences. (Judges are forbidden to grant probation or suspend a sentence.) Moreover, the law specifically targets young offenders, who can be labeled gang members under a very lax standard, then found "vicariously liable" for the actions of a companion, even though the accomplice in question did not personally use a gun, or even know that a fellow "gang member" was carrying a gun.