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Maryland state Republican lawmakers called for stronger penalties for gun crimes and more accountability for repeat and juvenile offenders on Thursday.
Members of the Joint Republican Caucus are again pushing a measure that, two years ago, was approved in the Senate but died in the House. The Violent Firearms Offender Act, Senate Bill 744, would change the separate offense of using of a firearm in a violent crime, which is now a misdemeanor, into a felony.
The bill also would increase penalties for illegal possession of a firearm to a maximum sentence of five years in prison or fine not exceeding $10,000 or both. For any subsequent illegal gun possession offense, the court could impose a sentence of up to 10 years or a fine not exceeding $10,000 fine or both.
It also would make selling a firearm to someone who uses it in the commission of a crime a felony.
The bill, scheduled for a hearing March 14 before the Judicial Proceedings Committee, has one Democratic co-sponsor: Sen. Ron Watson (D-Prince George’s).
Republican leaders praised Gov. Wes Moore (D), who was sworn into office in January, for his leadership as a military officer and for his commitment to the country.
Sen. William Folden (R-Frederick), lead sponsor of the firearms offender act, called Moore an “inspirational speaker.”
“The governor has a great platform to really move measures that are important to Marylanders,” said Folden, a police officer in Frederick with nearly 30 years of law enforcement experience.
Folden said he wants Moore to use his abilities as a leader and motivator to move these crime control measures forward.
“We’re just asking him to rally everybody behind him and be the tip of the spear towards making Maryland a safer place now,” Folden said. “We can’t wait.”
Democrats outnumber Republican 2-to-1 in both chambers, but Republicans said that, with a rise in violent crime in Maryland, they hope their Democratic colleagues will listen.
House Minority Whip Jesse Pippy (R-Frederick) noted that Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot (D) lost a reelection bid Wednesday and that Lightfoot’s failure to curb crime has been seen as a major cause for her defeat.
“What’s the difference between last year and this year? Well, people will start to lose elections,” Pippy said. “We’re hoping that this does make a difference and we’re looking forward to working with the governor on the issue as well.”
Also in the package of Republican backed measures is House Bill 753 which would allow children aged 10 to 12 to be charged with gun crimes. The bill, sponsored by Del. Nicholaus R. Kipke (R-Anne Arundel), is to be heard Thursday in the House Judiciary Committee. It comes in the wake of 12-year-old bringing a loaded gun to school in Anne Arundel County in January.
Another bill, Senate Bill 564, makes the theft of any handgun a felony. Current penalties for theft of a handgun depend on its value, thereby classifying theft of a handgun valued at less than $1,500 as a misdemeanor.
The proposed legislation would raise the penalty for handgun theft to a mandatory two years in prison or as much as five years in prison and/or up to a $1,000 fine. A subsequent conviction would draw a mandatory minimum five year sentence and/or a $2,500 fine. The bill’s sponsor is Sen. Justin Ready (R-Carroll).
Del. Rachel Muñoz (R-Anne Arundel) is sponsoring a similar gun theft bill.
House Bill 750, heard in the House Judiciary Committee on Wednesday, also would make theft of any firearm a felony. Conviction could draw a penalty of up to five years in prison and/or a $1,000 fine. A subsequent offense could draw up to 10 years in prison and/or a $2,500 fine.
Last month Muñoz’s husband, a pharmacist, and his staff were held at gunpoint by a man who demanded drugs.
Muñoz said her Democratic colleagues “shared their compassion and their empathy and concern for this issue. I can tell it touches them. I feel they are receptive.”