City Council Ordinance 17-0111 – Prohibiting Handguns Near Places of Public Assembly

INFORMATION ON CITY COUNCIL ORDINANCE 17-0111 – Weapons – Prohibiting Handguns Near Places of Public Assembly. I have given this issue a great deal of thought after extensive research and discussions and have put together the information below that includes: 1) legal background on this issue; 2) details on the proposed ordinance; 3) why I believe the ordinance is necessary; 4) common misconceptions about mandatory minimum sentencing; 5) my position on the ordinance; and 6) next steps in the legislative process. A copy of the amended bill is available here.

BACKGROUND ON THE CITY’S AUTHORITY GRANTED BY THE STATE OF MARYLAND – In most cases, the State of Maryland generally preempts local law related to the purchase, sale, transfer, ownership, possession, and transportation of guns (Md. Crim. Law Art., § 4-209). However, there are three exceptions in which the City and other counties may legislate: 1) with respect to minors; 2) with respect to law enforcement officials of the subdivision; or 3) within 100 yards of, or in, a park, church, school, public building, or other place of public assembly.

DETAILS ON THE PROPOSED LOCAL ORDINANCE – The proposed ordinance mandates a one-year jail sentence (which may NOT be suspended), along with a $1,000 fine, for illegal possession of a handgun within 100 yards of a park, school, church, public building, or other place of public assembly. Illegal possession of a handgun is already defined in State code, therefore the City is not creating a new standard for who can or cannot legally carry a handgun. The one-year jail sentence (which may NOT be suspended) and $1,000 fine is the maximum penalty possible at the local level, because that is the authority granted by the State of Maryland to the City of Baltimore. It is important to note that this legislation does NOT apply to individuals who, according to existing State code, are legally in possession of a handgun. The following YouTube video with comments from BPD Commissioner Kevin Davis provides further clarification. You may also view a draft of City Council Ordinance 17-0111 online.

WHY IS THIS PROPOSED CITY ORDINANCE NECESSARY – The data is clear. Since January 01, 2016, there have been 605 convictions of crimes committed with a gun, including illegal possession of a gun. Of those, 60%, or 363 of these convictions have resulted in suspended sentences, in which the individual is released from jail despite the conviction. The last two years were the deadliest in Baltimore City’s history, with 344 homicides in 2015 and 318 homicides in 2016. With 188 homicides as of July 18, 2017, we are on track for 345 homicides this year, which would be our deadliest year ever. Of all homicides since the beginning of 2016, 46% of victims and 42% of suspects of committing this horrific crime have been previously arrested for crimes committed with a gun or illegal possession of a gun. We must take action to make our City safe.

COMMON MISCONCEPTIONS REGARDING MANDATORY MINIMUM SENTENCING – While extensive research exists around mandatory minimums and whether or not they are an effective deterrent, by and large this research applies to non-violent crimes such as possession of drugs – it does not apply to violent crimes or possession of deadly weapons. Much of the research around mandatory minimums for possession of drugs indicates that the imposed sentence is not always effective. However, this legislation for the above referenced mandatory minimums is different for several important reasons: 1) it only impacts individuals who are  committing a far more serious crime that is already on the books – illegal possession of a handgun; 2) the State’s Attorney will maintain prosecutorial discretion – meaning they do NOT have to charge on this if they determine that extenuating circumstances exist; and 3) plea deals may still be reached with this charge being the looming stick to the carrot. These principles are clearly articulated in research on the recently enacted mandatory minimum sentencing in New York City, which may be found in the following New York Times article.

MY POSITION ON THE PROPOSED ORDINANCE – In the above referenced article is a quote from Mr. Robert J. Masters, an Executive Assistant District Attorney from Queens, NY. Mr. Masters  is discussing the use of a local mandatory minimum for illegal gun possession and the need to change the culture on both the street and in the courthouse (both of which I have referenced above with respect to the level of crime and the number of suspended sentences) “We wanted to make sure that people understood that prison was the presumptive sentence for carrying a gun,” he said. “We also wanted the legal community to appreciate that if we deviated from that position, it would be rare and based on prison being truly ‘unduly harsh’ rather than being merely unduly inconvenient.” This quote perfectly exemplifies my position on this issue.

I am a co-sponsor of this legislation. I do believe that amendments to the legislation are worth considering, especially an amendment for this to apply only to those previously convicted of illegal possession of a gun or any other crime in which a gun has been used. While I won’t speak for any of my colleagues on the Committee or on the Council, I will say that I will be supporting this legislation. In short, if you carry an illegal handgun in Baltimore City, especially if it is not your first time, you should expect to go to jail.

NEXT STEPS – This bill will be heard in the Judiciary and Legislative Investigations Committee, which I chair, on Tuesday, July 25, 2017. This is the regular weekly time slot for this Committee. Regardless of your position, you are welcome to:

  • submit written testimony in advance via email to: eric.costello@baltimorecity.gov and I will ensure it is placed on the record with the Department of Legislative Services;
  • attend the hearing on the 25th; or
  • watch the hearing on Comcast Channel 25 or on Charm TV’s website.

If the proposed ordinance is voted out of Committee on July 25th, it will go to Second Reader in front of the entire City Council on Monday, August 14, at 5pm.

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