245 homicides in Baltimore. That’s what it finally took to get help from the state for Baltimore’s gun violence epidemic.
Too many people view Baltimore’s homicides as Baltimore’s problems, but Baltimore is the heart and soul of the state and the everyone needs to stand up and collaborate to find solutions.
A joint hearing with the State Senate Judicial Proceedings Committee and the Baltimore City delegation was held on September 12 to begin investigating policies that will reduce the violence. State legislators from all over the state and from multiple committees came together to hear about how we can make Baltimore safer. Because when Baltimore does well, the state does well.
What I assumed would be a standard 3-hour hearing turned into an 8-hour marathon. Initially I was concerned that the entire dialogue would revolve around criminal justice, but the speakers and their testimony created a balanced, holistic approach to solving Baltimore’s violence epidemic. Mayor Catherine Pugh and Commissioner Kevin Davis led the day’s testimony, but they were followed by discussions on the root causes of gun violence like unemployment, lack of quality transportation and education, poverty, and easy access to guns.
Many of the speakers like Mayor Pugh, Commissioner Davis, and State’s Attorney Marilyn Mosby spoke of the need to prioritize illegal gun possession, but we need to focus on how illegal guns are making it to our streets. The most important first step would be an extensive study and analysis of crime gun trace data to determine exactly where and when firearms are getting into the wrong hands.
In 2007, there was a pivotal court case that exposed a huge gap in Maryland gun law. Since there is no definition of a firearms transfer in Maryland law, the plaintiff was acquitted due to this oversight and convictions of illegal gun transfers have dropped significantly. Our state legislators need to address this oversight.
Even without new laws and definitions, there are actions that state agencies and law enforcement can take to address illegal guns making it to the streets. The 2013 Firearms Safety Act granted Maryland State Police the authority to inventory gun dealers and revoke licenses to prevent corrupt or negligent gun dealers from supplying guns to the underground market.
The law also created a requirement that dealers and gun owners report their lost and stolen guns to the authorities within 72 hours. State leaders need to conduct annual reports of inspections and audits of gun dealers to determine whether there are documented law violations and any actions taken by MSP in response.
We must simultaneously build up community-led prevention measures to prevent Baltimore youth from turning or returning to crime. One such model Baltimore could implement through its Office of Crime Prevention is the Group Violence Intervention. This approach, part of the Cure Violence model, has been successful in cities like Chicago and Boston and involves community leaders, social-services groups, and law enforcement coming together to identify
at-risk youth and offer interventions.
The group calls the individuals to a meeting to send a message of the need for violence to end and offer services or mentorships to give the young person a different opportunity. If the offers are ignored or refused and the individual returns to crime, then law enforcement gets involved.
This is especially necessary in Baltimore, where relations between the community and police are strained. The law enforcement will be seen as invited by community leaders there to keep the peace for the neighborhood and not as an
outside, occupying force.
By the time the hearing was over at 9:30 PM, I was exhausted but inspired. Members of the state legislature promised that this would be the first of many hearings to curb the violence in our great city. Marylanders to Prevent Gun Violence will be there every step of the way. By combining full implementation of Maryland’s gun laws along with community-led prevention programs, Baltimore can become a safer and more vibrant community.
It is vitally important that we all come together and face the preventable gun deaths that plague Maryland.