Dems Reject Gun Violence Bill as Shootings Surge in Baltimore

Dem senator: 'I don’t think anyone has walked out of here thinking that we've done enough'

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March 19, 2020

Maryland Democrats rejected a bill aimed at combating gun violence as Baltimore mayor Jack Young publicly begged residents to stop shooting each other so hospitals could be used to treat coronavirus patients.

Young, a Democrat, pleaded with residents on Wednesday not to "clog up our hospitals and beds with people [who] are being shot senselessly." But on the same day, his partymates in the state legislature voted down a bill pushed by Republican governor Larry Hogan that would strengthen penalties for violent criminals.

Hogan’s Violent Firearms Offenders Act would make the theft of a firearm a felony and increase penalties for those who repeatedly carry illegal guns or use a gun while drug dealing. The bill passed the state Senate on March 10 following a contentious back-and-forth between lawmakers. Democrats successfully removed the legislation's mandatory minimum sentencing increase, arguing it would punish violent criminals too severely.

Following the removal of mandatory minimums and the bill's subsequent passage, state Senate president and Baltimore Democrat Bill Ferguson lauded the legislation's bipartisan nature, saying it included "the legislature's priorities and some of the governor's priorities." Speaker of the House Adrienne Jones did not respond to a request for comment on why the bill was rejected.

Following the Wednesday vote, the Maryland legislature adjourned due to the coronavirus crisis. House Minority Leader Nic Kipke called the failure to pass Hogan's bill "one of the disappointments" of the legislative session.

"We still haven't addressed the issue of crime in the state," Kipke said. "It's one of the disappointments for me this session."

Democrat state senator Will Smith Jr., who led the charge to remove the bill's mandatory minimums, also expressed discontent.

"I don't think anyone has walked out of here thinking that we've done enough," he said.

GOP state senators accused Democrats of attempting to gut the legislation even further in the amendment process. According to Republican senator Michael Hough, Democrats in the Judicial Proceedings Committee offered amendments that removed penalty enhancements for drug dealers who use a gun, criminals who steal guns, and those who use a so-called assault weapon to commit a crime. Fellow Republican senator Bob Cassilly told the Washington Free Beacon that Democrats undermined public safety.

"The strategy that we pursued was, just to point out, 'Do you realize what you're saying?' Democrats, on one hand, were pushing legislation to give jail time to people who didn't comply to the letter of law with a firearm transfer. Meanwhile, they were giving a break to people who use firearms to sell drugs," Cassilly said.

Hogan's Violent Firearms Offenders Act was overwhelmingly popular among Baltimore residents—85 percent indicated support for the bill, as did 84 percent of African Americans statewide, according to an internal poll shared with the Free Beacon by Hogan's office.

Violent crime spiked in the nation's deadliest large city in the last week, according to Baltimore police commissioner Michael Harrison. After seven people were shot Tuesday night, Young urged the city's residents to stop the violence, so health officials could focus on the pandemic.

"I want to reiterate how completely unacceptable the level of violence is that we've seen recently. We will not stand for mass shootings and an increase in crime," the mayor said. "We cannot clog up our hospitals and their beds with people that are being shot senselessly because we're going to need those beds for people infected with the coronavirus. And it could be your mother, your grandmother, or one of your relatives. So take that into consideration."