By Dels. Jason Buckel and Jesse Pippy
Already in July, there have been two mass shootings in Maryland injuring nearly 40 people and killing 3. Words cannot describe the tragedy and horror of these incidents.
Maryland citizens have repeatedly called for action on violent crime. Maryland lawmakers responded by restricting the rights of law-abiding citizens with concealed carry permits and passing juvenile justice reforms, which have only made matters worse. The General Assembly’s lack of action to address repeat, violent criminals is astonishing.
Over the last decade, the General Assembly has reduced, and in some cases, eliminated, accountability and consequences for those who commit crimes. There is a place for restorative justice in our society. In Maryland, however, the pendulum has swung so far in the wrong direction that the focus has become entirely on the “needs” of the criminals and not of the victims, nor in protecting our fellow citizens.
Uptick in juvenile crime
In 2022, “Juvenile Justice” legislation was passed in Annapolis which limited the ability of law enforcement to interact with juvenile suspects. Since that time there has been a significant uptick in juvenile crime across the state.
In Prince George’s County, juveniles account for over 60% of those charged with carjacking in the first half of 2023. In addition, the number of juveniles arrested for car theft sat at 110 as of June 1– a number that was more than double those juveniles arrested for car theft in 2022. Across Maryland, police have found their investigative powers hampered when dealing with juveniles suspected of committing violent crimes.
Sadly, news broke late last week that the first person charged in connection with the mass shooting in Baltimore is a juvenile. The problems with the changes to the juvenile justice system were well known when the General Assembly was in session earlier this year. While fixes were promised, they were never delivered.
Maryland’s violent crime crisis is not solely due to juvenile offenders. Far too often these heinous crimes are committed by repeat violent criminals who should already be in prison. Our former House of Delegate’s colleague, U.S. Attorney Erek Barron has repeatedly discussed the need to get repeat violent criminals out of our communities. This seems to make sense to everyone except many Democrats in the General Assembly.
Targeting repeat violent offenders
The House Republican Caucus has offered and advocated for legislation addressing repeat violent criminals year in and year out.
In 2023, we offered the No Bail for Repeat Violent Offenders Act, which prohibited bail for individuals charged with crimes of violence while already on pretrial release for a previous crime of violence. The bill would have also prohibited bail for an individual charged with a crime of violence if they have had a prior conviction for a crime of violence and the individual completed their period of parole and probation within 5 years of the subsequent charges. This commonsense legislation, designed solely to keep violent criminals off the streets, was never given a vote.
Whenever Maryland’s Democratic legislators address crime, their reaction seemingly is only to target law-abiding gun owners. Many bills restricting gun ownership have passed over the last decade and Maryland has some of the strongest gun control bills in the United States. Nevertheless, the violence persists.
Making firearm theft a felony
Democratic leaders have refused to make the theft of a firearm a felony, although the overwhelming majority of all gun crimes in Maryland are committed with a stolen firearm. The House Republican Caucus has offered this initiative as legislation and as floor amendments to other bills repeatedly each year. Recent polling shows the vast majority of Marylanders support this measure.
Addressing violent crime is a complex issue, and there is no single solution. It is a false choice, echoing the language of Gov. Moore, to suggest that we can’t increase penalties and enforcement for serious criminals while working to reduce poverty, poor education, and substance abuse that sometimes leads to criminal behavior.
We also have to acknowledge that juvenile crime is a major contributor to this violent crime wave and the General Assembly’s reforms have made it worse. We have to work cooperatively and give serious consideration to commonsense policies, no matter where they come from. We have a collective responsibility to keep our communities safe. We ask our Democratic colleagues in the State House and Gov. Moore to work with us to help stem the tide of violence now.
Del. Jason Buckel from Allegany County is House of Delegates Minority Leader Jason.Buckel@house.state.md.us Del. Jesse Pippy of Frederick County is the House Minority Whip Jesse.Pippy@house.state.md.us