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Still, Mike Reynolds couldn’t be prouder of the law, which he refers to as his "puppy." Even more his, he says, than "three strikes": "Because this one they can’t lay off on Polly Klaas [the 12-year-old Petaluma girl whose murder-kidnapping inflamed the nation and catapulted ‘three strikes’ to decisive victory], or on a lot of emotion and a big wave of money. ‘10-20-Life’ was put together right here," says Reynolds, pointing at his living-room floor.
To actually write the "10-20-Life" bill, says Reynolds, "We once again used our team of judges." He’s referring to the same team that wrote his "three strikes" law, a team that includes Jim Ardaiz, now presiding judge on California’s 5th District Court of Appeals. Reynolds also got technical assistance from "a couple of key people from the District Attorneys Association.
"From there," continues Reynolds, "we made an attempt to drive the bill as a ballot initiative. But we couldn’t qualify. We only got about 200,000 signatures. We didn’t have a Polly Klaas. When Bill Cosby’s kid got murdered, we asked if he’d help and got a form letter saying he wasn’t interested. But at the same time, we were driving the bill legislatively. We knew we had the hottest-button issue in California, much hotter than ‘three strikes.’" So hot that with an election year coming up, the bill — opposition to which would almost certainly have amounted to political suicide — passed, on September 27, 1997, with only a couple of abstentions.
"This is Route 41, probably the artery through Fresno," announces Reynolds, who’s now busy driving me around in his battered white van to all the sites related to his daughter’s murder. "It’s perceived as a ‘crime belt,’ but when these little punks have wheels, they go all over. They don’t go downtown anymore, because there’s nobody there to rob and mug."
Reynolds is something of an expert when it comes to his native Fresno — a flat, sun-bleached Central California city that was his entire world prior to his daughter’s murder: Asthma kept him out of the draft at the height of the Vietnam War, and after high school he briefly attended a local community college.
Yet despite his limited experience of the world outside the San Joaquin Valley, Reynolds has managed to radically transform California’s criminal-justice laws twice within four years.
Today, he announces as we continue the tour, he’s concentrating on a $5 million allocation from the state Assembly to sponsor television broadcasts of his "10-20-Life" videos. "Before ‘three strikes,’" he says, "us getting funding on a package like this wouldn’t have happened. We had no credibility, no track record. Nowadays, shit, I walk through the Capitol, everybody knows me. They may love me or hate me, but they know who I am." (And in fact, by evening’s end Reynolds’ request for money has cleared its first Assembly committee, and his bill has been placed on the Assembly docket for further consideration, though it will later be denied.)
Reynolds proceeds to sell me on "10-20-Life," pointing out how, since passage of the law and the "deliberate program to let people know about it," Fresno has experienced "the greatest quarterly crime drop ever in any county in California."
When I check Reynolds’ figures with the Fresno Police Department, I find that gun crimes indeed dropped significantly in the city from January to August 1998. (Assaults, robberies and homicides with firearms declined by 43 percent, 48 percent and 54 percent respectively.) What Reynolds fails to point out, however, is that Fresno’s crime rate, like that of the state, has been dropping significantly since 1993, a year before "three strikes" and five years before "10-20-Life." And while Lieutenant John Fries, the administrative assistant to Fresno’s chief of police, does feel that "three strikes" and "10-20-Life" have helped, he points out that there were other factors involved in bringing crime down in Fresno: SWAT officers patrolling the streets, the introduction of helicopter response and the addition of one-third more sworn officers to the department.
Because of his passion in promoting "10-20-Life," I assumed Mike Reynolds would be part of the growing gun-control chorus. He quickly sets me straight.
"Look," he says, "my daughter was murdered with a .357 Magnum. They placed it in her ear. What I want is that kind of conduct stopped.
"Let’s talk about some of the [gun-control] proposals," Reynolds continues. "Banning cheap handguns wouldn’t be effective. That would just end up putting more reliable guns out on the street."
I ask about assault weapons. "It depends on what’s an ‘assault weapon.’ You can get around a clip-size ban by taping two clips together and reversing them — you’ve walked around the law with nothing but a piece of tape. So while it may feel good, is it making things safer?"
I press him further. Is he going after assault weapons?
No, he replies. He is "going after the people who use the guns. Machine guns are against the law in California, yet I just had an opportunity to buy one. The question is, have gun-control laws been effective in stopping machine guns? The answer is, they have not. Drugs are illegal, and has that stopped them? Hell no it hasn’t."