Davis to step up gun ef­fort

Com­mis­sioner to lobby for jail time for il­le­gal pos­ses­sion

Baltimore Sun - - FRONT PAGE - By Justin Ge­orge and Erin Cox

Bal­ti­more Po­lice Com­mis­sioner Kevin Davis plans to step up ef­forts to lobby law­mak­ers for more prison time for peo­ple ar­rested with il­le­gal hand­guns and high­ca­pac­ity gun mag­a­zines. And he in­tends to call on trauma sur­geons and griev­ing fam­ily mem­bers to help make his case.

Davis’ pledge to seek Gen­eral Assem­bly ac­tion comes as city po­lice strug­gle with an un­par­al­leled rise in shoot­ings and homi­cides since the April 2015 ri­ots. His pro­pos­als also come amid a raft of gun con­trol pro­pos­als ex­pected to be de­bated in An­napo­lis, in­clud­ing bills to ban guns from col­lege cam­puses and pre­vent peo­ple on fed­eral ter­ror­ist watch lists from buy­ing them.

The com­mis­sioner’s ideas will likely face re­sis­tance. Mary­land al­ready has some of the strictest gun laws in the na­tion, and key law­mak­ers are skep­ti­cal that more laws would help. Three years after leg­is­la­tors passed a sweep­ing gun-con­trol pack­age fol­low­ing the Sandy Hook Ele­men­tary School shoot­ing in Con­necti­cut, they en­acted an over­haul of Mary­land’s manda­tory sen­tenc­ing for non­vi­o­lent crimes.

“Jus­tice is in­di­vid­u­al­ized,” said state Sen. Robert A. Zirkin, a Bal­ti­more County Demo­crat who chairs the Ju­di­cial Pro­ceed­ings Com­mit­tee. “Where two years might make sense in one case, it won’t make sense in an­other. That’s why manda­tory min­i­mums don’t work.”

But with Bal­ti­more head­ing to­ward its sec­ond straight 300-homi­cide year, Davis said gun of­fend­ers are be­ing re­leased without con­se­quences and — in some cases — harm­ing or killing again within days.

“The cer­tainty of a con­se­quence for il­le­gally pos­sess­ing a firearm in D.C. and New York and other places is a felony charge, and that felony charge is known by the bad guys who choose to carry guns,” Davis said.

In Mary­land “there’s no con­se­quence as­so­ci­ated with il­le­gally wear­ing, car­ry­ing or trans­port­ing a firearm.”

‘Pre-mur­der’

Davis, who views the act of car­ry­ing a gun as “pre-mur­der,” said gun­men are in­creas­ingly shoot­ing with in­tent to kill. The Bal­ti­more Sun found in a year­long in­ves­ti­ga­tion that one out of three peo­ple shot in the city died in 2015, mak­ing Bal­ti­more one of the most lethal large cities in Amer­ica. And more than 60 per­cent of vic­tims last year were shot in the head, a telling sign to de­tec­tives that vic­tims were killed at close range and tar­geted.

So far this year, 85 per­cent of the more than 260 peo­ple killed in Bal­ti­more were shot to death.

Davis said judges are sus­pend­ing too much prison time in sen­tences for peo­ple ar­rested for il­le­gal gun pos­ses­sion. Of 175 peo­ple found guilty this year of il­le­gally pos­sess­ing a gun, 109 re­ceived sus­pended sen­tences. In 14 cases, all of the sen­tence was sus­pended.

Among those serv­ing lit­tle to no jail time, Davis said, were three sus­pects ar­rested for hand­gun vi­o­la­tions who were sen­tenced to three to five years, but the bulk of their in­car­cer­a­tion was sus­pended. Within weeks of their re­lease, they were re­ar­rested for crimes such as armed rob­bery, ag­gra­vated as­sault, at­tempted first-de­gree mur­der and mur­der, he said.

Davis ini­tially be­gan lob­by­ing in Fe­bru­ary for laws that would side­step judges’ dis­cre­tion and en­sure jail time for gun of­fend­ers, urg­ing law­mak­ers to con­sider manda­tory prison sen­tences.

In­flu­en­tial Bal­ti­more law­mak­ers pushed his ideas. Sen. Cather­ine E. Pugh — Bal­ti­more’s Demo­cratic nom­i­nee for mayor — and Del. Luke Clip­pinger, a prose­cu­tor, sponsored leg­is­la­tion that would have strength­ened the cur­rent sen­tence for il­le­gally car­ry­ing a gun from 30 days or more to a manda­tory year or more. The ef­forts failed.

Law­mak­ers felt cur­rent laws al­ready pro­vide for sen­tences of a year or more in prison, and some feared that this pro­posal could in­ad­ver­tently in­car­cer­ate law-abid­ing gun own­ers.

It’s dif­fi­cult to pre­dict how Davis’ re­quests will be re­ceived dur­ing the com­ing ses­sion, which be­gins in Jan­uary. The na­tional po­lit­i­cal cli­mate has shifted away from manda­tory sen­tences, said Alexan­dra M. Hughes, chief of staff for House Speaker Michael E. Busch. There is also a re­gional di­vide among law­mak­ers about the ur­gency of en­act­ing new gun laws.

“I don’t know what the ap­petite will be in the Ju­di­ciary Com­mit­tee for that,” she said.

Fred­er­ick County Repub­li­can Sen. Michael J. Hough wor­ries about un­in­tended con­se­quences.

“If I lived in East Bal­ti­more and I’m a law-abid­ing per­son, I’d prob­a­bly want to carry a gun, too. If you just im­prop­erly stored it, you could get busted by the law,” said Hough, a mem­ber of the Ju­di­cial Pro­ceed­ings Com­mit­tee, which re­views gun leg­is­la­tion in the Se­nate.

Demo­crat Del. Kath­leen M. Du­mais was in­stru­men­tal in pushing the 2013 gun con­trol pack­age through the House Ju­di­ciary Com­mit­tee, where she is vice chair­man. But she ques­tioned whether more state laws would be ef­fec­tive when firearms are flood­ing into the city from states with weaker gun laws, such as Vir­ginia.

“I un­der­stand the frus­tra­tion of try­ing to ad­dress the crime in Bal­ti­more,” she said, “and I’m more than will­ing to lis­ten to his ideas.”

Del. Mary L. Washington, a Bal­ti­more Demo­crat, said she sup­ports more reg­u­la­tions, in­clud­ing re­stric­tions on high-cal­iber guns that are in­creas­ingly be­ing seized by city po­lice. But she said law­mak­ers need to fo­cus more on the so­cioe­co­nomic in­equal­i­ties plagu­ing the city, not manda­tory prison sen­tences that don’t “stop the hand that’s pulling the trig­ger.”

Del. Brooke E. Lier­man, also a Bal­ti­more Demo­crat, said gun vi­o­lence in the city demon­strates why hand­gun vi­o­la­tions de­serve more strin­gent pun­ish­ment.

“Ob­vi­ously our mass-in­car­cer­a­tion is­sues are real and se­ri­ous, but in my mind there is a dif­fer­ence be­tween smok­ing pot on the cor­ner or deal­ing pot on the cor­ner and car­ry­ing around a high-ca­pac­ity weapon,” she said. “Peo­ple are car­ry­ing around guns to kill other peo­ple, not to maim them, not to scare them off, but to kill them.”

Dif­fer­ent game plan

Know­ing re­sis­tance is ahead, Davis said he plans to draw up more pro­vi­sions to ad­dress con­cerns that his pro­posal would in­ad­ver­tently snag law-abid­ing gun own­ers.

“We just have to do a bet­ter job — we be­ing law en­force­ment — to ex­plain the im­pact il­le­gal guns have,” Davis said. “Our game plan, our strat­egy will be a lit­tle dif­fer­ent this time.”

He said he plans to in­vite groups rep­re­sent­ing vic­tims such as Moth­ers of Mur­dered Sons and Daugh­ters United and A Mother’s Cry to lobby with him. He al­ready has the sup­port of Mary­lan­ders to Pre­vent Gun vi­o­lence, the group’s pres­i­dent said.

He also plans to call on Bal­ti­more trauma sur­geons such as Mary­land Shock Trauma Cen­ter physi­cian-in-chief Dr. Thomas M. Scalea, who­has said sur­geons are strug­gling with try­ing to save gun­shot vic­tims in­creas­ingly shot by higher-cal­iber weapons or more bul­lets than in years past.

In a state­ment, Scalea in­di­cated that he would tes­tify in An­napo­lis if called upon.

“The is­sue of gun vi­o­lence is near and dear to my heart and all of us at Shock Trauma,” he said. “Howwe curb it is a much more dif­fi­cult con­ver­sa­tion. I am sure the com­mis­sioner will lobby for more laws which may help. I do not know how to get it done, but I am cer­tainly in fa­vor of less vi­o­lence.”

The Mary­land Firearms Safety Act of 2013 pro­hibits the sale of gun mag­a­zines with more than 10 rounds. If con­victed of com­mit­ting a felony or vi­o­lent crime with an ex­tended mag­a­zine, de­fen­dants face a min­i­mum of five years in prison and a max­i­mum of 20.

Since the law passed, dozens of ex­tended mag­a­zines that far ex­ceed the limit have been con­fis­cated in the city, ac­cord­ing to po­lice. But only 11 peo­ple have been charged in Bal­ti­more and fewer than 100 statewide un­der the mag­a­zine statute, The Sun found.

Davis said the law should also ap­ply to crim­i­nals com­mit­ting mis­de­meanors. If the law is aimed at pre­vent­ing vi­o­lence, charg­ing peo­ple after they com­mit felony acts such as mur­der and at­tempted mur­der is too late, he said.

“I un­load 14 rounds, chances are I’m go­ing to kill you,” Davis said.

In Au­gust 2015, the Ma­jor Cities Chiefs Po­lice As­so­ci­a­tion held a meet­ing with na­tion­wide law en­force­ment lead­ers and “a num­ber of chiefs in­di­cated they were see­ing a lot more rounds be­ing fired in shoot­ings,” said Dar­rel Stephens, the group’s ex­ec­u­tive direc­tor.

Ac­cord­ing to The Sun’s in­ves­ti­ga­tion, the num­ber of bul­let wounds found on vic­tims who died from mul­ti­ple gun­shots jumped from nearly five bul­lets to nearly six in the last decade. The num­ber of vic­tims shot be­tween five and nine times and those fa­tally shot more than 10 times dou­bled.

AL­GE­RINA PERNA/BAL­TI­MORE SUN

Bal­ti­more Po­lice Com­mis­sioner Kevin Davis plans to ask the Gen­eral Assem­bly for stiffer penal­ties for il­le­gal pos­ses­sion of hand­guns and high-ca­pac­ity mag­a­zines.

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