Stop stolen guns in Bal­ti­more County with the SAFE Act

Baltimore Sun - - COMMENTARY - By Melissa Hy­att and Johnny Ol­szewski Jr.

In May 2015, shortly af­ter celebratin­g a Mother’s Day cook­out with his wife and son, 36-year-old Harry Davis Jr. was shot and killed near his home in Bal­ti­more. The weapon used to mur­der Mr. Davis was not ob­tained legally — it was stolen in a bur­glary of a North Carolina gun shop be­fore be­ing ob­tained by the per­son who killed Mr. Davis.

More than 5,650 firearms were stolen na­tion­wide in bur­glar­ies from firearm re­tail­ers in 2018 alone, ac­cord­ing to the Bureau of Al­co­hol, To­bacco, Firearms and Ex­plo­sives. Stolen firearms are of­ten sold or traded to crim­i­nals, pro­vid­ing deadly weapons to many in­di­vid­u­als barred from own­ing guns. Th­ese weapons in turn are used to com­mit vi­o­lent crimes — like in the tragic case of Mr. Davis.

Com­mu­ni­ties across Mary­land, in­clud­ing in Bal­ti­more County, have ex­pe­ri­enced sim­i­lar bur­glar­ies. In 2018 and 2019 alone, there were 10 bur­glar­ies or at­tempted bur­glar­ies at seven dif­fer­ent firearm re­tail es­tab­lish­ments in Bal­ti­more County. More than 50 firearms were stolen in those in­ci­dents. Mean­while, last sum­mer, crim­i­nals tar­geted es­tab­lish­ments in Howard County and Mont­gomery County on suc­ces­sive nights, steal­ing a to­tal of 45 weapons. Of­ten, even af­ter ar­rests are made in th­ese cases, stolen firearms are never re­cov­ered.

More can be done to stop th­ese crimes, and we­have an obli­ga­tion to do so. That is why we are propos­ing the Se­cure All Firearms Ef­fec­tively (SAFE) Act: a straight­for­ward pub­lic safety so­lu­tion to keep stolen guns off our streets and out of the hands of vi­o­lent crim­i­nals.

The SAFE Act sets min­i­mum se­cu­rity stan­dards for firearm re­tail­ers and gun shows to deter would-be bur­glars and pre­vent guns from be­ing stolen. Specif­i­cally, the bill cre­ates a new county li­cense re­quir­ing a po­lice de­part­men­tap­proved plan that uses a com­bi­na­tion of phys­i­cal se­cu­rity, video sur­veil­lance and alarm sys­tems to pro­vide a base­line level of se­cu­rity.

Se­cu­rity re­quire­ments have al­ready been en­acted in other ju­ris­dic­tions, in­clud­ing Con­necti­cut, Illi­nois, Min­nesota, New Jersey, Penn­syl­va­nia, Rhode Is­land and West Vir­ginia — and they work. New Jersey, a state with a pol­icy sim­i­lar to the SAFE Act, saw three firearms stolen by bur­glars be­tween 2012 and 2017 while North Carolina, a state with­out re­quire­ments, saw 1,400 firearms bur­gled over that same pe­riod.

Although firearm re­tail es­tab­lish­ments are pro­tected by staff dur­ing the day, some do not safely lock away mer­chan­dise af­ter nor­mal busi­ness hours. Oth­ers are in­con­sis­tent in how they do so, with some even leav­ing their firearms in­ven­tory to­tally ex­posed.

De­spite be­ing fre­quent tar­gets for crim­i­nals, th­ese stores have no le­gal re­quire­ment to se­cure their busi­ness or their in­ven­tory at night — a stark con­trast to other re­tail­ers. Med­i­cal cannabis dis­pen­saries, for ex­am­ple, must meet strict se­cu­rity re­quire­ments un­der state law to se­cure mer­chan­dise af­ter busi­ness hours and un­der fed­eral law, phar­ma­cies must uti­lize phys­i­cal se­cu­rity mea­sures to pro­tect med­i­ca­tions. The same should be true for firearms.

Good govern­ment iden­ti­fies prob­lems and brings peo­ple to the ta­ble to find solutions. In that spirit, Bal­ti­more County’s SAFE Act has been de­vel­oped in con­sul­ta­tion with law en­force­ment, busi­ness own­ers and firearms ex­perts. As a re­sult of th­ese con­ver­sa­tions, we have pro­posed a flex­i­ble bill that rec­og­nizes the unique cir­cum­stances of each in­di­vid­ual busi­ness. In fact, the SAFE Act ac­com­plishes the se­cu­rity we need with re­quire­ments than those for Mary­land’s cannabis dis­pen­saries.

We want to be clear: this pub­lic safety pro­posal has ab­so­lutely no im­pact on the rights of in­di­vid­u­als wish­ing to pur­chase firearms. Rather, it en­sures that the guns for sale at firearm re­tail es­tab­lish­ments can be pur­chased by law-abid­ing in­di­vid­u­als rather than be­ing stolen by crim­i­nals.

In de­vel­op­ing this pro­posal, we have seen that many re­tail­ers in Bal­ti­more County are re­spon­si­ble part­ners who have al­ready taken sig­nif­i­cant steps to keep their in­ven­tory se­cure. The SAFE Act will sim­ply ask all re­tail es­tab­lish­ments to be held to that same stan­dard.

As the county ex­ec­u­tive and po­lice chief for one of Mary­land’s largest ju­ris­dic­tions, we take our re­spon­si­bil­ity to keep com­mu­ni­ties safe very se­ri­ously. That means con­stantly ex­am­in­ing our polic­ing strate­gies, look­ing at op­por­tu­ni­ties for in­no­va­tion and act­ing de­ci­sively to en­sure our neigh­bor­hoods and com­mu­ni­ties re­main safe.

We en­cour­age the County Coun­cil to sup­port this com­mon-sense leg­is­la­tion to make Bal­ti­more County our state’s first ju­ris­dic­tion to take this step to keep il­le­gal guns off the street and help pre­vent tragic deaths from th­ese crimes.

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