Planning began weeks ago for a news conference focused on gun violence in Anne Arundel County, as elected leaders at the state and local level wanted to talk about an issue that’s been one of the biggest in Maryland. It would also be a chance to talk about the plans for the five-year anniversary of the Capital Gazette shooting, which was the first mass shooting in Annapolis.
But earlier this month, six people were shot outside of a home, upending the original plans while reinforcing the message everyone involved wanted to convey at the same time.
“We have had another mass shooting, and we have had way too many shootings, and believe me, there have been way too many shootings across this country,” said Anne Arundel County Executive Steuart Pittman.
Last month, Anne Arundel County libraries began offering free gun locks to anyone who wanted them, and so far, about 1,500 have been handed out — a number that both surprised and encouraged Pittman.
“People showed up,” said Pittman. “People who knew they had guns in the house that were not secured, and they wanted to make sure they were secured … I didn’t think we’d have that many, and we’re going to continue to do it, and we’re going to grow.”
The county has also made gun violence a public health issue, getting the county health officer involved with strategy and policy. But as he spoke, Pittman also recalled being asked in 2018 by the Capital Gazette editorial board about what he would do to stop the next mass shooting in the county, just weeks after a gunman opened fire in the newsroom.
With that in mind, Pittman admitted, “We failed. Some of us tried, but we did not succeed.”
For those who spoke — and the elected leaders who took to the podium were all Democrats — the blame was put squarely on the federal government.
“We know that it’s becoming easier and easier for people in Maryland, because of the Supreme Court, to get firearms,” said Pittman. “There are so many of them out there, that when somebody is frustrated and wants to resolve a conflict, they’re more likely to turn to a gun if there’s one nearby. That’s what’s frustrating. That’s where I believe we’ve failed.”
Annapolis Mayor Gavin Buckley said he’s spoken with several other mayors from around the country about how they’ve handled mass shootings since 2018.
“Every community that you go to, they never expect there will be a mass shooting in their community. ‘That couldn’t happen here,’ that’s what the general consensus is, until it happens,” said Buckley.
“Did I ever think it could happen again? I would think not, but then all of a sudden, I get a call on a Sunday night about violence in a community that is sort of middle class. You wouldn’t expect anything much to go on there. There’s not many police calls out to that neighborhood.”
At the state level, lawmakers who represent Annapolis talked about the work that’s been done to expand red flag laws, background checks and safe storage requirements in homes where kids live.
“While we (in Maryland) have some of the strongest gun laws in the nation, clearly those are not enough to stem the tide of gun violence we are seeing in this community, across Maryland and across the country,” said state Sen. Sarah Elfreth. “We need to do more to make sure that the laws we pass just across the street are actually working the way we intended.”
The implementation of those laws are what state Del. Shaneka Henson said is the next crucial step.
“We’ve passed a lot of really well intended laws, a lot of really effective laws,” said Henson.
Now, it’s making sure that the legal system knows what’s expected as a result of those laws taking effect.
“I don’t think we’ve seen the full effect of all of them,” Henson added.
Next Wednesday, Annapolis will honor the five-year anniversary of the Capital Gazette shooting with a wreath-laying service at a memorial near City Dock. The focus will be less about politicians and what they have to say, and more about the five victims who were killed.
The seven people shot and killed in Annapolis already this year will also be recognized. The city saw just one shooting death last year.
“You can’t just give in,” said Buckley. “You have to keep trying because the answer is not more guns. Because more guns means more deaths.”
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