Maryland Dems Kill Crime Bill Amid Baltimore Murder Spike

State, local Dems push to slash police budgets, decriminalize drug needles, ban ICE facilities

Deflated balloons hang from a lamppost where a person was killed on Feb. 3, 2018 in Baltimore, Maryland. / Getty Images
April 13, 2021

Just days after Baltimore's progressive mayor announced a task force aimed at slashing the notoriously violent city's police budget, Maryland Democrats killed a bill that would enhance penalties for those who use guns to commit violent crimes.

The state's Democratic-controlled House of Delegates refused to vote on the Violent Firearms Offender Act before the 2021 legislative session adjourned Monday night. For the second straight year, lawmakers rejected the GOP-backed anti-crime package, which would strengthen penalties for violent gun crimes and close a loophole that allows drug dealers to avoid felony charges when using a gun to sell drugs, among other provisions. 

The move came after Maryland Democrats passed a bill requiring all rifle and shotgun sales between private citizens go through a licensed dealer, a provision that President Joe Biden has endorsed at the national level. Republican state Senate minority whip Michael Hough argued that the bill would hurt law-abiding gun owners while doing nothing to address violent crime, noting that "there hasn't been data … of one homicide as a result of a person-to-person sale of a long gun." 

In addition to gun control, state and local Democrats pushed forward with policies that critics say will erode public safety. Progressive Baltimore mayor Brandon Scott on Thursday announced a task force that will work to reduce the city's police budget over the next five years, which he said "is about reimagining what public safety is." Maryland Democrats went on to repeal the state's police bill of rights, decriminalize drug needles and syringes, and ban Immigration and Customs Enforcement detention facilities in the closing days of the legislative session, prompting a scathing rebuke from GOP governor Larry Hogan's political group.

"While the already horrifying murder rate in Baltimore continues to rise, the House of Delegates was more focused on jamming through sanctuary city bills than passing Governor Hogan's common-sense reforms to hold violent criminals accountable," Change Maryland Action Fund spokesman David Weinman said. "How many more Marylanders have to die until the legislature starts taking this issue seriously?"

Democratic House of Delegates speaker Adrienne Jones did not return a request for comment.

Even with bipartisan support, the Violent Firearms Offender Act failed to clear Democrats' supermajority in the state legislature. Republicans pushed the bill to address what they called a gun violence "crisis" in Baltimore. The city saw 348 homicides in 2019, just five killings short of its deadliest year on record. While homicides dropped slightly to 335 in 2020, the year still marked Baltimore's sixth most violent since 1977. Both murders and non-fatal shootings are on pace to increase in the city in 2021.

Democrats' refusal to take up the Violent Firearms Offender Act, Hogan noted Friday, is at odds with Baltimore residents—nearly 63 percent of whom are black. Eight-five percent of Baltimore residents and 84 percent of African Americans statewide expressed support for the bill, according to a February 2020 internal poll shared with the Washington Free Beacon.

Scott's push to further reduce Baltimore's police budget comes less than a year after he voted to eliminate more than $22 million in police funding as city council president. The progressive touted the move as "just the beginning," assuring activists who painted "DEFUND THE POLICE" on a nearby street that he would continue to "reduce Baltimore's budget dependence on policing." 

In addition to Baltimore, more than 20 major cities voted to reduce police budgets in 2020 following George Floyd's death. The movement has picked up steam among liberal activists and lawmakers in recent days following the police-involved fatal shooting of Daunte Wright in Minnesota. Rep. Rashida Tlaib (D., Mich.) responded to the shooting by calling for "no more policing, incarceration, and militarization" in a Monday tweet.

While Tlaib contended that her push to end policing stemmed from law enforcement officers being "inherently and intentionally racist," a Gallup poll released in August 2020 showed that 81 percent of black Americans want police presence in their communities to remain the same or increase.