House and Senate Republican leaders unveiled a series of bills Wednesday aimed at addressing violent crime in the state.
The proposals include measures that would increase penalties for those who use a firearm during the commission of a crime, classify the theft of a firearm as a felony, increase the amount of jail time that prisoners must serve before they are eligible for parole, and establish a special unit within the Office of Attorney General to prosecute violent crimes in Baltimore City.
Some of the proposals were first introduced during the 2020 legislative session which was cut short due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
There were 335 homicides in Baltimore City last year, according to the Associated Press. Many of the victims were children and senior citizens.
“One of the government’s primary and essential roles is to keep people safe. To keep children safe. To create communities where parents are not afraid to let their kids play outside,” House Minority Whip Kathy Szeliga (Baltimore and Harford) said at a virtual news conference.
Szeliga added: “We are failing in our responsibilities. This isn’t just the responsibility of one local government. It’s not merely a local issue. This is not about blame.”
Senate Minority Whip Michael Hough (Frederick and Carroll), who has sponsored legislation aimed at cracking down on repeat firearm offenders, echoed similar sentiments.
“It’s inexcusable. No one should be afraid in their own neighborhood to walk to the store or to go to the playground and face the threat of losing their life due to criminals who are using guns.”
Del. Wendell Beitzel (Garrett and Allegany), who has sponsored legislation that would make gun theft a felony, emphasized that data has consistently shown that most guns used in the commission of a crime were obtained illegally.
“We know based on federal studies that almost half of the guns used in crimes are acquired in underground markets. We also know that 30% of guns lined up at crime scenes are stolen. Illegal guns are weapons of choice for those committing violent crimes.”
House Minority Leader Nic Kipke (Anne Arundel), who has sponsored legislation to establish a Baltimore-focused prosecution team in the attorney general’s office, said urgent action is needed.
“Baltimore has seen six consecutive years of more than 300 homicides. There is no more time or blame or excuses as people are dying every single day. How high does the number have to reach before we make real and substantive changes to address this problem?”
The introduction of the GOP crime bills comes as the Democratic-controlled General Assembly has spent much of the current legislative session focused on police accountability measures. The proposals include increasing access to officer personnel files, repealing the Law Enforcement Officers Bill of Rights (LEOBR), reducing the use of no-knock warrants, and putting restrictions on officers’ ability to use excessive force.
Democrats maintain that they are equally committed to fighting violent crime and that holding officers accountable for wrongdoing both increase public safety and helps instill public confidence in law enforcement personnel.