Baltimore narrowly passes mandatory minimums for illegal guns

Baltimore Police Department Commissioner Kevin Davis, and Mayor Catherine Pugh, both strong advocates for the city's pending new law on illegal gun possession. (Photo: Patrick Semansky/AP)

Baltimore Police Department Commissioner Kevin Davis, and Mayor Catherine Pugh, both strong advocates for the city’s pending new law on illegal gun possession. (Photo: Patrick Semansky/AP)

The City Council on Monday gave approval to a watered-down measure originally designed to bring strict sentencing for some found with guns.

As reported by the Baltimore Sun, the Council voted 8-7 in favor of the ordinance without discussion.

The measure originally aimed to criminalize the carry or transport of a handgun, either openly or concealed, within 100 yards of a public building, park, church, school, or “other place of public assembly” with a mandatory penalty of one-year imprisonment and a $1,000 fine.

However, as modified in the wake of emotional response against the proposal in July, first-time offenders would not be eligible for the mandatory sentence except in cases where the illegal handgun they possessed was used in a crime. Also, the state’s attorney’s office could use discretion in charging individuals with violations of the city ordinance should it become law, skirting the issue entirely.

Even with the modifications, Baltimore Police Commissioner Kevin Davis continued to advocate for the measure. “Violence reduction efforts must include consequences for illegal gun possession,” said Davis last week.

The effort comes as the city is suffering from a record high murder rate — with over 200 killed so far this year — a figure reportedly higher than larger urban centers such as New York and Philadelphia and more than twice as many as Chicago.

Monday’s final approval by the Council was criticized by City Council Public Safety Committee Chairman Brandon Scott, who cast one of the opposing votes.

“We have to be smarter on crime. We have to look at a holistic approach. We can use the existing laws that we have — which there already is a mandatory minimum for gun crimes in the city of Baltimore — before implementing new things that we know that states like Florida and other places have thought about removing their mandatory minimums,” Scott said.

The ordinance was initially written by Mayor Catherine Pugh’s office, and she is expected to sign it once it reaches her desk.