Remarks (as prepared) by Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake to the Baltimore City Criminal Justice Coordinating Council about Tougher Penalties for Illegal Gun Possession
BALTIMORE, MD. (November 10, 2010)—Good afternoon.
Gun violence remains one of the most serious issues facing Baltimore. However, we are making progress. Over the past ten years, Baltimore has made significant progress reducing gun violence. For the past 3 years, homicides have been reduced to the lowest level since the 1980s.
So far this year, we are seeing a 17% reduction in gun crime citywide and since 2008, we have reduced gun crime by 28%.
This is not a cause for celebration—it is a call for further action. This shows that Baltimore CAN be a safer city, but we must do more.
This legislative session I will be asking all of you to work with me to introduce and support legislation that would create a minimum sentence of 18 months and maximum sentence of 10 years for defendants arrested with an illegal, loaded firearm.
Specifically, I am seeking to amend state laws that criminalize wearing, carrying and transporting a handgun; and, restrictions on the possession of a regulated firearm by prohibited persons by creating a mandatory, minimum sentence of 18 months and maximum sentence of 10 years for those persons who are arrested with an illegal, loaded firearm.
This will be a true grassroots effort by the citizens of Maryland to urge the passage of tougher gun laws to reduce gun violence throughout our state. We will engage the community in this debate.
The law will be an additional tool that law enforcement, prosecutors and courts can use to get illegal guns and the criminals who use them off our streets.
The data tells us that the people Police arrest today for gun offenses are the same people who go on to shoot, kill and rob again once they are released from jail. 40% of Baltimore’s homicide suspects and felony gun offenders have prior gun arrests.
Attacking gun crime means cracking down on illegal guns and sending a clear message that we will not tolerate them in Baltimore and Maryland. We need to make sure that criminals with illegal loaded guns go to jail.
Under current State law, many individuals arrested carrying an illegal, loaded firearm are charged with a misdemeanor. Too many of these convicted gun offenders are quickly released back into the community and go on to commit other gun crimes.
Statistics from Baltimore’s Gun Registry show that very few offenders charged with misdemeanor gun crimes serve significant jail time. In fact, eighty-two percent of all jail time imposed by Baltimore’s Courts for misdemeanor gun offenders this year was suspended. And the average amount of jail time served by misdemeanor gun offenders sentenced in Baltimore’s District Court is only four months.
A tragic and recent example of these unacceptable statistics is the senseless murder of our former colleague Councilman Ken Harris.
One of the men convicted of robbery and felony murder in Ken Harris’ murder trial — Charles McGaney — had previously been charged with and convicted of illegal gun possession in Baltimore County. Like so many others, he received a very short sentence for carrying an illegal, loaded handgun on August 5, 2008 and was back on the street less than six weeks later on September 20th when Ken was shot and killed in a robbery at New Haven Lounge in Northwood Shopping Center.
Under our current gun laws, a first-time gun offender is convicted of a misdemeanor and sentenced to no less than 30 days and no more than three years in jail. We must encourage our State legislators to adopt serious sentences to get violent gun criminals off our streets and send a clear message that illegal gun procession will not be tolerated in Maryland.
In the words of Ken’s surviving daughter, Nicole:
“As long as criminals can walk the streets with guns and without the least bit of fear or respect for the judicial system, any of us can easily become a victim. We cannot wait for criminals to act before we act. I urge our legislators to pass new, tough handgun laws to save other families from experiencing the pain and loss my family endures.”
I am honored to have the support of this very brave and passionate young woman.
Today, I ask you to join us in the fight to put an end to gun violence in Baltimore and Maryland. This legislation is critical to our efforts to make Baltimore and Maryland safer by cracking down on gun offenders and getting illegal guns off our streets.