A new measure going before the Baltimore City Council next week would ramp up sentencing requirements for those who illegally possess handguns in the city — the same people who police say are carrying out most of Baltimore’s murders.
In a 45-minute press conference at City Hall this morning, Mayor Catherine Pugh, City Council members, Police Commissioner Kevin Davis, state lawmakers and others squeezed behind the podium to announce a new council bill being introduced next week. Council President Jack Young’s measure would set a one-year, non-suspendable prison sentence requirement for illegal possession of a handgun within 100 yards of a park, church, school, public building or other public gathering place. It was also bring a $1,000 fine for the offender.
Davis used numbers to illustrate why he sees the change as necessary: Police data indicate 84 percent of last year’s murders, and 86 percent of those so far this year, were committed with handguns. Meanwhile, since Jan. 1, 2016, 60 percent of defendants charged with illegal handgun possession who’ve pleaded guilty in court have received more than half of their sentence suspended.
What that means, Davis said, is gun offenders in the city know it’s “60 percent likely that nothing is gonna happen to [them]” if they carry an illegal gun.
After uttering the same inference, Mayor Pugh said, “we believe that it is time for us to put some stronger measures in place.”
Young said his bill will “serve as a tool to help get the most dangerous and violent repeat offenders off the streets of Baltimore.” He opined that if Baltimore’s gun violence crisis were happening anywhere else in the state, lawmakers would take far more expedient action than they have so far.
He and Davis distinguished between the need for mandatory sentencing in drug cases – a strategy that over time disproportionately locked up far more minorities than whites, and was abandoned during the Obama presidency – and mandatory prison terms for illegal gun offenders.
Young said he’s spoken to too many families whose lives are “destroyed by the senseless death of a loved one. Enough is enough.”
Davis also said the legislation won’t affect anyone who has a legally registered firearm in their home. “Baltimore does not have a problem with people who legally possess handguns,” he said.
Young will introduce his bill at council hearing next week. It’ll start in the judiciary committee. The council president said he will push for a “speedy hearing so that we can get this bill passed and on the books in Baltimore City.”
That may not be as it easy he says, though. Council members Kristerfer Burnett and Ryan Dorsey are already objecting to the plan, citing failures of minimum sentencing policies for illegal gun possession in other parts of the country.
Mandatory Minimum sentencing is BAD public policy and I do not intend to support this in Baltimore City! https://t.co/SUzIt5k7Nr
— Kristerfer B (@CouncilmanKB) July 14, 2017
1) There's not a single city that has experienced a reduction in violence after implementing mandatory mins. (See: Ill, Fl, Mich, VA)
— Kristerfer B (@CouncilmanKB) July 14, 2017
Follow this thread as it unfolds. I am not supporting this bill. It's bad for Baltimore and is not supportable as sensible policy. https://t.co/wh7yQTSWlj
— Ryan Dorsey (@ElectRyanDorsey) July 14, 2017
Adam Jackson, leader of local grassroots group Leaders of a Beautiful Struggle has also penned an op-ed calling the measure “a tremendously short-sighted approach to stemming violence in Baltimore.”
The mayor’s office drafted the bill, working with Young and police officials on the language.
Young will also sponsor a council resolution that would call on state lawmakers in Annapolis to make a defendant’s second illegal gun possession charge punishable with a mandatory five-year, non-suspendable prison term.
Baltimore City Del. Curt Anderson said Maryland law at present provides for only a 30-day mandatory sentence for the first illegal gun possession charge, and a mandatory sentence of one year, also suspendable, for a second offense.
“All we’re doing is moving it up a step in Baltimore City,” he said of the council bill.
Del. Luke Clippinger of Baltimore would introduce the proposal to enforce stricter sentences for second offenses before the next General Assembly term, Anderson said.
Pugh and police officials worked with the U.S. Justice Department to survey how other large cities have successfully curbed crime in recent years. While Baltimore has seen its murder rate escalate for the last two and a half years, Los Angeles, Boston and New York have all managed to curb crime, she said.
What’s more is that all three of those cities have made illegal gun possession a felony, she said. The council proposal wouldn’t make illegal gun possession a felony, but would carry a stringent punishment similar to that for a felony charge.
While the ordinance, if adopted by the council, would only apply to Baltimore City, Pugh said she’s received support for the idea from county executives in surrounding jurisdictions.
The mayor also revealed some of her requests to Gov. Larry Hogan from their meeting earlier this week: more cooperation between the city with the state’s parole and probation office, better gunshot detection technology, license plate readers and computers in police cars.
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