A new attempt to impose a mandatory one-year jail sentence for anybody caught carrying a handgun in Baltimore, within 100 yards of a church, school, park, or any other public facility has members of the Baltimore City Council at odds and many in the community in opposition or unsure. On Monday evening (July 17), members debated the issue before it was formally introduced in the chamber.

At last week’s press conference announcing the proposed legislation — a media event conspicuous by the absence of Baltimore City State’s Attorney Marilyn Mosby — it seemed clear the Council was prepared to move quickly on the measure.

Mayor Catherine Pugh and Commissioner Kevin Davis support the bill, which makes sense; both are on the hot seat because Baltimore continues to be under a particularly virulent siege, which has the city on pace to eclipse the record number of homicides set in 2015.

Sean Yoes (Courtesy Photo)

According to the Baltimore Sun, seven members of the Council, including  president Bernard “Jack” Young also support the bill. In fact, Young told Council members the city could be on pace to surpass 400 homicides in 2017, emphasizing the urgency of passing the legislation.

Eight councilmembers are either against the legislation or still undecided. Four of the youngest, Kristerfer Burnett, Brandon Scott, Shannon Sneed and Ryan Dorsey are against the proposed law. Mary Pat Clarke, Bill Henry, Zeke Cohen and John Bullock are still pondering the measure.

With 188 homicide victims (as of July 18) and counting, the pressure is on city leaders to, “do something.” But, this proposed mandatory minimum gun legislation, which has been fast-tracked by the Council feels like a knee-jerk, maybe even desperate reaction to a grim scenario decades in the making.

The Baltimore based Black think tank, Leaders of a Beautiful Struggle (LBS), recently published an op-ed in strong opposition to the city’s proposed gun policy.

“We have a decade of analysis which says this policy won’t work and may in fact make the problem worse,” LBS stated. Scholars from the University of Michigan did a definitive study which showed that incarceration did not deter crime, but in fact make crime worse by locking up minor offenders who become career criminals in jail…and the City Council wants to double down on the same policies which caused this crisis.”

During an interview on First Edition (July 17), Dayvon Love, director of public policy for LBS, crafted a more specific context for the attempted implementation of the gun law.

“If we look at the policies of the last administration (Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake) in particular, but even over the last 20 or 30 years, there’s been a fundamental neglect, both of young people — you look at the cutting of rec centers, cutting of programs — in addition to just a fundamental lack of regard for Black folks,” Love argued. “The corporate sector in this town have benefitted more from the prior administration more than any other demographic in this city. And so what we’re seeing is…those young brothers who were 13, 14, back in 2011 are now… 17, 18, 19, 20. And so, we’re seeing now in the upsurge in violence the outcomes of policies that were neglectful of the folks that are involved in and in close proximity and perpetrating the kind of violence we see.”

During the conversation with Love, he made the cogent connection between the current proposed gun policy and the, “zero tolerance,” policing policies implemented in 1999.

“If we look at the impact of mandatory minimums it’s important for us to understand… there are a lot of people in our communities who were incarcerated for minor charges, and that spent time locked up,” Love said. “And that contributed to a mentality, to the kinds of detrimental contact with folks…who are criminal, to then produce people who are doing the things that we see today,” he added.

“And so I think that it’s really important for us to have nuance in understanding why we would approach the situation differently than we did in the past.”

Sean Yoes is the AFRO’s Baltimore editor and host and executive producer of First Edition, which airs Monday through Friday, 5-7 p.m. on WEAA, 88.9.

Sean Yoes

AFRO Baltimore Editor