This Article first appeared here on Wbaltv.com
ANNAPOLIS, Md. — Republican state lawmakers in Maryland are pushing a package of crime-fighting bills that they hope will pass, unlike in previous years.
The Senate Republican Caucus said its crime package is designed to address violent crime and hold repeat violent offenders accountable.
“It’s repeat offender, repeat offender, repeat offender. This has got to stop,” said Eastern Shore Sen. Johnny Mautz IV, R-District 37. “We are all hopeful this year that the level of violence will cause some action to put some new laws in place to try to address what’s going on.”
Democrats and Republicans agree there is a serious gun problem, but they don’t see eye to eye on how to address it.
“We have a problem. We have a massive problem,” said Senate President Bill Ferguson, D-District 46. “Something has to give. This can’t keep happening.”
On Monday, federal prosecutors announced FBI agents foiled an alleged domestic terrorism plot in which Sarah Beth Clendaniel, of Catonsville, planned a firearm attack against Baltimore’s power grid. On Friday, Harford County sheriff’s deputies took David Linthicum into custody after a two-county search in which he allegedly shot and wounded two Baltimore County police officers.
The Republicans’ Gun Violence Accountability Act (Senate Bill 745) would increase the penalties for illegally possessing a firearm from three to five years. It’s a bill for which Baltimore City State’s Attorney Ivan Bates initially had trouble finding a sponsor. Now, he has a sponsor in both chambers.
Republican lawmakers reached out to the city state’s attorney to discuss what would help him fight crime.
“Consequences for individuals who are carrying single handguns. Because, remember, it’s a misdemeanor, and right now, misdemeanor cases only make you serve a sliver of the time,” Bates said.
Making the theft of a handgun a felony is a long-standing priority for the Senate Republican Caucus, one that’s brought up again for Session 2023 in Senate Bill 564. In the past, the measure had been amended into other public safety legislation, but it was stripped out of the House version of the bill.
“Is public safety going after lawful gun owners? Or, is public safety going after criminals?” Mautz said.
The Violent Firearms Offender Act of 2023 (Senate Bill 744) has had bipartisan support in the past, but it failed to get out of the House. It would increase fines and jail time for gun crimes. It also would close a loophole in which drug dealers get a lighter sentence than someone else convicted for the same offense.
The Senate president said all of the bills will be considered. But Ferguson, who supports addressing the root causes of crime, did not leave the door open for a compromise.
“If we are only solving this problem with penalties, I think we will have failed,” Ferguson said.
Ferguson said penalties only ultimately matter if there are arrests and convictions.
“Is it part of the story? Yes. But will it solve the gun violence that is plaguing our state? No,” Ferguson said.
“When we talk about public safety, there are all these discussions about things that don’t exactly relate to what’s going on, and that’s the crime. We want to focus on the actual issue of crime,” Mautz said.
Two of the three Republican crime-fighting bills have bipartisan support; however, none have yet been assigned a hearing date.
Other crime-fighting bills Republicans have introduced in the House include: