ANNAPOLIS, MD – Members of the Joint Republican Caucus of the Maryland General Assembly today announced a package of bills to target the ongoing crisis of violent crime in our state.
“The 2021 Legislative Session was, at its onset, supposed to be limited to the major issues and problems the state faces”, said House Minority Whip Kathy Szeliga. “We are now past the halfway point of this session and we have not addressed what should be a top issue: the violent crime crisis in our state. In 2020, Baltimore City saw its 6th consecutive year of more than 300 homicides. There was a significant increase in the number of women and girls murdered in the City last year, a total of 48 women which is the highest in the City’s history. Elderly women, young women, expectant mothers, daughters, and even a three-year-old child were on that list.”
“Tragically, 2021 isn’t any better”, said Szeliga. The headlines from the last several months, or even the last several days, are heartbreaking: a 17-year-old targeted in Baltimore daytime shooting yesterday, a 12-year-old boy shot in northeast Baltimore on Monday, a 10-year-old girl shot in a shootout in West Baltimore last weekend. As a mother and a grandmother and simply as a human being, I find this horrifying. This isn’t just the responsibility of one local government, is not merely a local issue and this is not about blame. When this many lives are being lost, when children are being injured or killed, it is the responsibility of all of us to do all we can to stop this from happening.”
“One of the government’s primary roles is to keep people safe, to keep children safe. We are failing in our responsibility. We have come together today with our colleagues in the Senate to discuss some of our proposals to address this crisis of violent crime and to keep our communities safe.”
Violent Firearms Offenders Act of 2021
Senate Bill 852 , the Violent Firearms Offenders Act is a reintroduction of Governor Hogan’s 2020 Crime legislation that passed thanks to bipartisan compromise in the Senate. It later died in the House. The bill increases penalties for knowingly selling a gun to someone who commits a crime and prevents bail for gun offenders who have previously been convicted of a violent crime. This legislation also establishes tougher sentences for criminals who are repeatedly caught carrying guns and creates tougher penalties for use of assault weapons in a crime. Currently, felons who use firearms in the sale of drugs are specifically exempt from harsher penalties, but SB 852 closes this “drug dealer loophole”.
“Senate Republicans are introducing legislation that is narrowly targeted to repeat violent gun offenders”, said Senate Minority Whip Michael Hough. “The bloodshed we are seeing on our streets is caused primarily by repeat offenders who illegally purchase guns on the streets. Children shouldn’t have to be afraid to walk in their own neighborhood without being shot.”
Senate Bill 852 makes the theft of a handgun a felony, which is also the thrust of several other Republican bills this Session.
Making Gun Theft A Felony
In Maryland, handguns are treated like regular property when it comes to theft, the level of offense is determined by the value of the item. So in many cases, stealing a handgun in the State of Maryland only result in a misdemeanor charge. Federal studies show that almost half of the guns used in crimes are acquired in underground markets, we also know that 30% of guns that wind up at crime scenes are stolen.
“Too often in Annapolis, the debate about firearms focuses on people who obtain firearms through legal means”, said Delegate Wendell Beitzel, the bill sponsor. “Maryland has some of the most restrictive gun laws in the United States, but still has some of the highest rates of gun crime and is home to the 4th most-violent city in the nation. If we really want to address violent crime in this state we need to leave hunters and sportsmen alone and do more to go after illegal guns.”
House Bill 633 – Gun Theft is a Felony Act of 2021 does exactly what the title says, it makes the crime of stealing any gun a felony.
“This is our chance to go after the real bad guys for a change”, said Senator Justin Ready who is sponsoring a similar measure in the Senate, Senate Bill 560. “We’ve made lending a rifle or shotgun a felony, but stealing a gun is a misdemeanor. That makes zero sense. Crimes are not committed with legally owned firearms, they are committed with illegal guns, including stolen handguns.”
Stopping Dangerous and Violent Criminals Act of 2021
Under current law, those convicted of a violent crime are eligible for parole after they serve 50% of their sentence. In Maryland, violent crimes include acts like murder, kidnapping, manslaughter, and rape. It includes carjacking and armed robbery.
House Bill 678 – Stopping Dangerous and Violent Criminals Act of 2021 will require those convicted of violent crimes to serve at least 90% of their sentence before being eligible for parole.
“The crimes covered by this bill either end or forever-alter the lives of victims and their families”, said Delegate Jason Buckel, the bill’s sponsor. “These are the most heinous acts imaginable and we believe, as we are certain most people do, that the people who commit these crimes should have to serve a more than half their sentence before being eligible for parole. Punishing violent criminals and preventing career criminals from hurting Marylanders should be a bipartisan priority.”
Special Prosecutor for Violent Crimes in Baltimore City
Based on data from the FBI, Baltimore’s violent crime rate is 1,858.7 incidents per 100,000 inhabitants. This is five times higher than the national rate. Data from the Baltimore City State’s Attorney’s Office shows that they are only prosecuting about a third of the City’s homicide cases each year. Of the more than 300 homicide cases per year, only 100-120 are being prosecuted.
“This is an enormous and overwhelming level of violent crime and the responsibility falls on all of us as lawmakers to find ways to make this better”, said House Minority Leader Nic Kipke. These are Maryland citizens that are victims of these crimes. These are Maryland families that are being torn apart. Our responsibility doesn’t end at the beltway. There is a clear disconnect between the amount of violent crime being committed and the number of successful prosecutions. We need to address this.”
Kipke is sponsoring HB 1236, which will establish a special prosecution unit for Baltimore City within the office of the Attorney General. These new office prosecutors would focus only on violent crime, cases like gang prosecutions, homicides and shootings, carjacking, burglary, and firearm prosecutions. This elite group of prosecutors would target the worst crimes and the worst offenders in the city.
“Baltimore has seen six consecutive years of more than 300 homicides”, said Kipke. “There is no more time for blame or excuses. People are dying every day. Children are dying. How high does the number have reach before we make real and substantive change?”
“The bills we have discussed here today are ideas, not criticisms”, Kipke said. “They are attempts to solve a very real and very serious problem. Every one of us here want safe communities for all Marylanders.”
A full video of the announcement is available here.