Maryland's new crime bill is a start, but remains weak tea

With the record-setting murder rate in Baltimore, Maryland and epic gang violence plaguing the streets, both Maryland Governor Larry Hogan and Charm City Mayor Catherine Pugh have been working on new crime bills to address these issues. Sometimes at odds with one another, lately they’ve been sounding more and more as if they’re on the same page. What will be done in the city largely remains a mystery, but the state senate has passed a new crime bill aimed at attempting to improve the situation. Unfortunately, while I hate to throw cold water on their efforts, it still appears to come up short in key areas.

The Maryland Senate passed a sweeping crime bill Monday night that would raise the maximum prison sentences for dozens of criminal offenses, mostly involving repeat gun offenders.

The bill now goes to the House of Delegates.

Senators voted 36-8 to approve the legislation, which was put together by Sen. Bobby Zirkin, a Baltimore County Democrat who chairs the Judicial Proceedings Committee, as a comprehensive response to a surge in violent crime in Baltimore last year. Much of the opposition came from Baltimore, where a majority of the delegation voted no.

A couple of things to note in here. First, the bill passed by a wide margin in the Senate (still needs House approval) but almost all of the opposition came from the state senators from the Baltimore area. We’ve been beating our heads against the wall on this score for a while now and I still can’t make sense of it. The city is precisely where the most gun violence and gang warfare is happening. How is it that their local representatives still keep pushing back against cracking down on gun crimes?

Sadly, even if this makes it into law it’s missing some key items. They’re increasing penalties for repeat gun offenders, but not for first-time gun crimes. As their own police have said repeatedly, the key to curbing these trends is to get to the gang members when they are young and try to turn them away from violence at the first signs of trouble. Giving shooters a slap on the wrist doesn’t send a very powerful message.

They also rejected the Governor’s call for increased mandatory minimums for gun crimes. The same lesson applies here. Community outreach and neighborhood involvement in projects such as the “no murder weekends” is a very good thing. Getting more cops out on foot patrol where they can get to know the law-abiding members of the community is great too. But it can’t all be carrots. You need a stick to go with that. And until they start getting more serious about rooting out gun violence where it really happens and getting the shooters off the street, measures like this are going to continue to come up short.