Democratic lawmakers in Annapolis outline their approach to violent crime

Maryland Senate Democrats rolled out their plans Thursday to address rising crime in the state, calling for a four-pronged approach.

“There is nothing more important for government than making sure that people feel safe,” Senate President Bill Ferguson told reporters at a news conference in Annapolis. “It is a fundamental premise. It is the bedrock of our institutions.”

To do that, Ferguson said lawmakers would focus on four areas: “Prevention, intervention, criminal justice and rehabilitation.”

Ferguson said the level of violent crime was “at a level that we truly thought was unimaginable.” He pointed to the coronavirus pandemic as a major factor in the crime surge, especially among young people. “It has created an environment where many of our fellow Marylanders’ mental health and stability is simply not there,” Ferguson said.

Ghost guns

Prince George’s County Police Chief Malik Aziz, who was at the news conference, said there’s an “absolute urgency to further protect and increase the safety of our communities.”

He cited the need to take a regional approach, including beyond the borders of Maryland, to curb crime, including the proliferation of ghost guns.

Aziz said of 1,399 firearms recovered by police, 264 of those were so-called ghost guns — firearms made of components that are sold in kits, can be purchased online and don’t have serial numbers, making them impossible to trace.

Aziz said 13 of the ghost guns recovered by police had been used in homicides. “Every which way we go, we find a ghost gun, a gun that we cannot trace,” he said. “A gun that is readily accessible is the most sought-after weapon and this is inflicting all types of harm in our communities.”

Maryland Attorney General Brian Frosh told reporters he was focused on ghost guns, calling them “an increasing threat to public safety.” Frosh said the number of ghost guns recovered by police in Baltimore City increased drastically. In 2018, he said, Baltimore Police recovered 12 ghost guns, and this year they were on track to recover 700.

“That’s astonishing. And it’s scary,” said Frosh.

Frosh called ghost guns “the gun of choice for criminals” and said they’ve become popular with young people. “Kids are getting them. Children are buying these guns,” and often they’re doing it online, he said.

Frosh referenced the shooting at Magruder High School in Rockville last month. In that case, a 17-year-old student is accused of critically wounding a 15-year-old inside the school building. Police found the accused student in a classroom with the firearm, which had been disassembled.

Montgomery County Police Chief Marcus Jones said his department has recovered five ghost guns from inside schools and on school property this year alone. The 17-year-old accused in the Magruder High School shooting had, according to police, purchased the components for the ghost gun used in the Jan. 21 shooting and had them delivered to his home.

Jones was asked about parental responsibility. He previously told reporters the purchase of the firearm in the Magruder case was not illegal under current law but said that if he knew his child was receiving packages that he didn’t order, “I would want to know what’s in the package.”

Frosh also mentioned a shooting in Montgomery County where a 14-year-old is accused of shooting and killing a 20-year-old victim. The weapon, in that case, Frosh said, was also a ghost gun.

Frosh supports a bill that would ban the sale, receipt and transfer of unserialized components used to assemble the firearms. If passed, that provision would go into effect by June 1. A proposed ban on the possession of firearms without serial numbers would take effect in Jan. 2023 under the legislation favored by Frosh.

Another component in the Senate Democrats’ plan for crime prevention includes legislation known as the Maryland Gun Center Bill. Sen. Pamela Beidle of Anne Arundel County explained, “The bill establishes our state’s gun analytics center as a one-stop-shop for screening and vetting gun cases in Maryland, and will lead to more systemic enforcement and effective prosecution of gun crimes” she said.

Judicial transparency, parole and probation reform

Sen. Will Smith, chair of the Senate Judicial Proceedings Committee, talked about legislation that he said would boost judicial transparency so that the public would have “access to how our judicial branch is rendering decisions moving forward with respect to some of the crime cases we’ve seen.”

Smith also talked up a plan to track “aggregated information” on how prosecutions are carried out in Maryland.

Another component of the Senate Democrats’ plan to deal with crime focuses on rehabilitation, improving the operations of parole and probation and providing services to prevent recidivism.

Ferguson and the Democratic senators said the need for immediate action to address crime is clear, but that their approach varies dramatically from that of Republican Gov. Larry Hogan, now in the last year of his second term as governor.

Hogan has repeatedly called on lawmakers to adopt his crime package, which includes a provision that would require the Maryland State Commission on Criminal Sentencing Policy to track and publish detailed information on the sentences that are handed down by judges for violent crimes. He’s also called for tougher sentences for violent offenders and those who illegally supply firearms to offenders.

Kate Ryan

As a member of the award-winning WTOP News, Kate is focused on state and local government. Her focus has always been on how decisions made in a council chamber or state house affect your house. She's also covered breaking news, education and more.

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