ANNAPOLIS — Maryland Senate Democrats recently announced a community safety proposal to craft legislation prohibiting ghost guns, collaborate with behavioral health facilities and improve the state’s parole and probation services.
These and other proposals count as part of a comprehensive plan to decrease violent crime that has increased since the coronavirus pandemic affected the state in March 2020.
“The Senate of Maryland stands ready to provide the resources and support that’s needed so executives can tackle crime and address violence in our state,” Senate President Bill Ferguson said Thursday, Feb. 3 at the Miller Senate Building in Annapolis.
Although some of the legislation hasn’t been crafted in time for approval during the 90-day session, several law enforcement leaders and Maryland Attorney General Brian Frosh joined Ferguson and other Senate leaders in Annapolis.
Frosh spoke about proposed legislation to ban the sale of ghost guns – privately manufactured firearms used in crimes delivered by mail and typically made of plastic. He said the “kits” can be easily purchased by credit card and do not require a serial number which would allow for them to be traced by law officials.
Last year, Baltimore City seized 345 ghost guns while Prince George’s County collected 264.
A 17-year-old student at Magruder High School in Montgomery County used a ghost gun Jan. 21 when he shot a 15-year-old student inside the school.
“The legislation we are proposing would require all guns sold in our state to be serialized,” Frosh said. “It makes it difficult for police to solve crimes, but even worse, it makes it easier for people to get their hands on guns and commit more crimes.”
Democrats said the plan focuses on four pillars – prevention, intervention, criminal justice and rehabilitation – with goals within the legislation slated to include:
- Increase resources for violence prevention.
- Establish a comprehensive gun analytics center.
- Provide enhanced services for housing and employment.
Prince George’s County Police Chief Malik Aziz said assistance from mental health professionals help the department maintain its main duty: handle public safety.
“Although we have 40 hours of training and we do our level best to do it, we are not the most equipped to do that,” he said. “Far too often, police officers are called to do services beyond our control. This has led us to the understanding that we need a holistic approach.”
Republicans Respond with Criticism
Senate Republican leaders have yet to see a version of the ghost gun proposal but have already criticized their Democratic colleagues for failing to address the immediate effects of violent crime.
They summarized one piece of legislation which Gov. Larry Hogan presented in December as part of a crime package.
Sen. Michael Hough of Frederick County, who also represents portions of Carroll County, filed the bill called the “Violent Firearms Offender Act” scheduled for a hearing Thursday, Feb. 10 before the Judicial Proceedings Committee.
One part of the bill notes if a person who provides a gun to someone and “has actual knowledge” it would be used in a crime, then that individual, if convicted, could face up to 10 years in prison.
“This is common-sense policy,” he said. “We don’t want people selling guns to people, handing guns to people . . . when they know they’re going to commit a crime. I can’t believe every senator wouldn’t agree to that policy.”
Senate Minority Leader Bryan Simonaire of Anne Arundel County said Democrats want to discuss coordinating with state and local authorities to deter crime, versus prosecuting “known” crimes. He used Baltimore City as an example and called it “the epicenter of crime” in the state.
“They talk about holistic, long-term changes and ignore the immediate crisis,” he said. “Our solution is to provide immediate and bold solutions to get violent criminals off the street now.”
One bill that does present some compromise deals with another bill from the Republican governor labeled the “Judicial Transparency Act.” He introduced it last year requesting sentencing records of judges in violent crime cases become public.
Sen. William Smith, Jr., a Democrat who chairs the Judicial Proceedings Committee, said the bill came before the committee last year with some differences that needed to be worked out. For instance, the governor wanted to display a specific judge’s name based on certain decisions, versus the committee noting it by circuit courts.
“The overarching goal still remains the same which is having access to those decisions and understanding trends in certain areas, geographic locations in the state so that we can see if there are problems or not,” Smith said. “The public deserves to have that information.”