It’s a rare day when you’ll see me cheering for states or cities passing new gun laws because they generally involve stripping law abiding citizens of their Second Amendment rights. But that’s not always the case. In the city of Baltimore, now frequently known as the murder capital of the country, the City Council was on the verge of passing a gun related law this week which would actually do some good. The proposed legislation would have imposed stiff new penalties (including significant jail time) for those caught using illegal weapons in the commission of a crime.
So how did that work out? At the eleventh hour they watered the bill down to the point of irrelevance, of course. (Baltimore Sun)
A Baltimore City Council committee agreed Tuesday to gut legislation originally designed to impose a mandatory one-year sentence on people who illegally carry guns, amending the measure to set tight limits on when it would apply.
The Judiciary and Legislative Investigations Committee voted 5-2 to advance the amended bill to the full council.
The panel moved to water down the bill amid a contentious six-and-a-half-hour hearing, which at one point lapsed into chaos as members of the public clashed with police inside the council chamber.
The proposal has become a focal point in the debate over what to do about the record homicide rate in Baltimore this year. Supporters say it would be a useful tool to curb the violence, while opponents say the city risked returning to harsh crime-control policies of earlier decades.
The Sun correctly describes what emerged from the committee meeting as “a relatively minor piece of legislation.” Instead of a mandatory minimum one year sentence for any illegal gun violation, either carrying without a permit in certain areas or using one in the commission of a crime, they moved it out to only apply on a second offense. And there’s also a loophole which allows the State’s Attorney (Marilyn Mosby in this case, who I’m sure you remember from the Freddie Gray debacle) to use “her own discretion” as to whether or not the mandatory minimum would be applied.
Here’s the thing… there’s already a state law in place which has a mandatory minimum for a second gun offense and five years for using a gun in violent crimes and drug crimes. All this legislation is going to wind up doing is adding a $1,000 fine. The original bill might have gotten gang members packing illegal iron off the streets faster. This is nothing but an avoidance of the problem and a return to the status quo.
So how did this happen? Why would people living in the shadow of a gun crime rate which has already racked up more than 500 shootings this year turn their nose up at some tougher laws? Here’s why:
Councilman John Bullock, considered a key swing vote, offered one of the amendments. He said later that the changes assuaged his qualms about supporting the bill. If his support holds, the measure would have the eight votes needed to pass the full council.
“My concerns were the impact it would have on first-time offenders and people who were not committing any crimes of violence,” he said.
If you’re finding gang bangers wandering around with unregistered guns, given the current murder situation, wouldn’t you want to get them off the streets even if they don’t have a previous gun crime on their rap sheet?
Most of the time, as I noted above, new “gun laws” involve making it harder to legally own a gun. What we actually need is enforcement of existing laws (and tougher ones like we almost had in Baltimore) to go after the real problem. That would be the people who are not law abiding and are buying their guns on the black market and shooting up civilians. Baltimore had the chance to show they were serious about doing precisely that this month and they completely bailed out on their obligation to protect the citizens of the city.