Mom of St. Mary’s County teen killed in school shooting testifies in favor of gun bill

melissa willey
Melissa Willey testifies in the Maryland Senate in support of a gun bill. (WTOP/Kate Ryan)

The mother of a St. Mary’s County, Maryland, teenager who was killed in a 2018 school shooting testified Thursday before state lawmakers on a gun safety bill.

Melissa Willey cradled her 3-month-old daughter on her chest as she sat at the witness table in Annapolis in support of Senate Bill 646, which would keep firearms out of the hands of minors.

Willey’s 16-year-old daughter, Jaelynn Willey, died after she was shot in Great Mills High School in March 2018 by a classmate.

Melissa Willey told lawmakers how her 3-month-old will never know her older sister. “My baby won’t ever get to know her sister in a physical sense,” she said. “She will only know Jaelynn from what we share with her.”

This undated photo provided by the Willey family shows Jaelynn Willey. (Courtesy of the Willey family via AP)

The bill would require gun owners to lock up their firearms — loaded or unloaded — and it would add jail time, in addition to fines for violations.

The 17-year-old shooter, Austin Rollins, used his father’s gun in the shooting that killed the teen girl and wounded another student. Rollins then took his own life.

State Sen. Will Smith, a Democrat from Montgomery County and the Chair of the Judicial Proceedings Committee, sponsored the bill.

“In Maryland last year, there were 67 violations filed in District Court and 88 violations filed in Circuit Court for violations of the current statute, which shows you this is a problem here in the state,” Smith said.

Several lawmakers on the panel questioned the implications of the bill.

Republican Sen. Justin Ready, whose district includes Carroll County, expressed concerns for rural residents who use firearms for hunting, or for cases when wildlife poses a threat to crops or livestock.

“Oftentimes, people will keep a gun handy,” Ready said. “It’s not the same as leaving a loaded handgun for kids to play with.”

Republican Sen. Michael Hough, whose district straddles Frederick and Carroll counties, also had reservations about the bill.

“That’s quite a jump in the law to go from, ‘You can’t leave a loaded gun lying around,’ to, ‘You have to lock all your guns up,'” Hough said.

Melissa Willey told lawmakers, “I hope this never happens again and that holding gun owners responsible can lead to the prevention of situations like ours.”

Smith said there were several exemptions, including ones that allowed minors to handle guns as long as they were supervised by someone over 18. He said the penalties outlined in the bill are still being worked out.

Willey recalled how her daughter had been asked to the prom, but, “She didn’t get to go. She was murdered at Great Mills High School.”

WTOP’s Kate Ryan reported from Annapolis, Maryland.

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