I’ve covered Annapolis for a few years now – first as a reporter and now as a commentator – and I haven’t discovered even a fraction of all the nooks and crannies inside the State House.
For example, I had never been on or even noticed the sliver of an elevator tucked away behind the House chamber until the moments prior to Gov. O’Malley’s, “State of the State,” address last week. That is until one of the security officers directed me to it as an alternative to the roped off stairway that leads to the House visitor’s gallery.
And on my very first trip on that sardine can of an elevator I found myself in pretty good company: Maryland First Lady Judge Katie O’Malley, her father former Attorney General Joseph Curran and former Gov. Harry Hughes.
As soon as they got off on the second floor they ran into Baltimore Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake, who was chatting with new Baltimore City State’s Attorney Gregg Bernstein. I had a feeling I wasn’t really supposed to be up there, because there weren’t any other media types around. But, nobody stopped me or said anything, so hey, no harm, no foul.
Anyway, I kind of lingered in the area until I got a chance to speak with the mayor for a moment and she sure did say a lot in that moment, much of which was off the record.
But on the record SRB did provide a preview of the argument she presented with Baltimore Police Commissioner Fred Bealefeld in Annapolis on Feb. 4 in favor of new gun legislation.
“We’re working very hard to be effective as well as efficient. We need additional tools and this legislation will be a tool to help cut the homicide rate down dramatically,” the mayor said.
Despite the fact Baltimore has seen its lowest homicide rates in decades over the last couple of years, the city still has one of the highest big city homicide rates in the country, a fact the mayor wants to change.
“In New York the first year that they had increased minimum sentences their homicide rate went down almost 20 percent,” she said. “These are real lives we’re talking about. It’s not just statistics and I think we can make a real difference and change the culture of violence on the street if we get this done.”
But, the reality is several attempts to establish tougher gun laws in Baltimore City, including bills brought by Rawlings-Blake’s predecessor Sheila Dixon, have failed.
“The bills that the mayor has proposed this year are very similar to the ones proposed the last couple of years…however, one of the bills that was proposed last year actually passed out of (judiciary) committee, which was a hurdle that had never been hurdled before,” said Del. Curt Anderson, sponsor of two bills, who represents District 43 in Baltimore City.
“The reason why it passed is because it was a compromise. There’s always been a problem with folks from rural areas – people who represent folks from rural areas – worried about shotguns and long guns,” Anderson added.
“They don’t mind the restrictions on handguns…but, when we try to extend those same penalties to shotguns and long guns they feel as if their good ol’ boy friends will be swept into this thing that we’re trying to do for Baltimore City so, there’s always been opposition.”
Another bill stipulates those caught in possession of a loaded gun will receive a mandatory minimum sentence of 18 months and will not be eligible for parole during that 18 month period.
According to police, 82 percent of all jail time imposed by city courts is suspended and 44 percent of the suspects in killings in 2010 had a previous gun arrest.
The gun legislation submitted this session has general support from the Baltimore City delegation, but some members are more dubious of the legislation being pushed by Mayor Rawlings-Blake and Commissioner Bealefeld.
“Gun legislation is not what brings crime down,” said Sen. Catherine Pugh, who represents District 40 on the city’s west side and is a potential challenger to Rawlings-Blake in the mayor’s race this fall.
“It begs the question why do people commit crimes, why are they involved in criminal activity? And I think what we’ve found in Baltimore City is that a lot of our crime problems center around our drug issues, lack of employment and those are the issues we have to deal with,” Pugh added.
“So, I don’t think gun legislation does that. But, what we don’t want are people in the streets with guns unnecessarily. So is that good legislation? It’s probably better legislation. Is that the solution to the crime problem? Probably not.”
To be continued…