Md. Gov. Moore’s bill to take a public health approach to gun violence gets a hearing in Annapolis

The mother of a 13-year-old boy who was shot and killed by a 12-year-old told lawmakers in Annapolis, Maryland, this week, “I pray that we come together to create a safer and more compassionate world for all.”

Ja’Ka McKnight told the members of the House Judiciary Committee that her family was “determined to turn her tragedy into action” and that’s why she was testifying in favor of a bill that would create a Center for Firearm Violence Protection and Intervention that would be housed within the state’s Department of Health.

The bill is part of a package of measures that make up Gov. Wes Moore’s public safety agenda.

McKnight’s 13-year-old son, King Douglas, was shot and killed by a 12-year-old at a Capitol Heights shopping center in April of 2021.

McKnight told the House Judiciary Committee that her late son was “the heart of my family” and said she believed creating the center could help other families avoid “the same heartbreak that I’m experiencing.”

The center the bill would establish is intended to create a “public health approach to firearm violence reduction,” according to language in the bill. The governor’s bill proposes $10 million for fiscal year 2025, and that in following years “the governor may include in the annual budget a general fund appropriation sufficient to fund the center.”

Jen Pauliukonis, the director of policy and programming for the Johns Hopkins Center for Gun Violence Solutions, told lawmakers that by taking a public health approach to gun violence, state leaders “would fully understand the scope of the gun violence epidemic, which factors most put our communities at risk and which laws and programs area most effective” at combating gun violence.

Taylor McKee, mid-Atlantic regional director for the National Rifle Association, testified against the bill, telling the committee members, “The real solution to Maryland’s crime issues lie not in creating more bureaucratic entities, but rather in strengthening policies and practices that target and punish criminal activities directly.”

McKee suggested “providing law enforcement officers with more and necessary resources and upholding Second Amendment rights.”

Also testifying against the bill, John Josselyn, speaking on behalf of gun rights lobbyist 2A Maryland, called the legislation a “treadmill bill” saying, “you see a lot of activity, but you don’t see a lot of forward progress.” He then told lawmakers that “what we’re looking at is a people problem,” and that “until we fix the family, we are not going to fix this problem.”

Along with establishing the center, Moore’s public safety agenda favors longer probation for juvenile offenders and speeding up the compensation process for victims of crime in Maryland.

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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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