Baltimore is at it AGAIN
Well, gun control proponents at the City of Baltimore are at it again.
Now the proposal is to enact a new ordinance that would impose a mandatory minimum one year of jail time and a fine of $1,000 for anyone who knowingly wears, carries or transports a handgun, on his/her person or in a vehicle, "within 100 yards of, or in, a park, church school public building or other place of public assembly." The bill would create a presumption that a person who transports the handgun does so "knowingly." The bill would exempt from its coverage persons who are permitted to transport a handgun in the circumstances detailed by MD Code Criminal Law §4-203(b) (LEOs, permit holders, transport to the range, on one's residence, between residences and between residences and the business of the owner, etc). The bill is an attempt by the sponsors to come within the exception to the State preemption law, MD Code Criminal Law Section 4-209. That statute preempts legislation regulating "possession and transportation" of any firearm by a county or municipality except for legislation that regulates firearms "within 100 yards of or in a park, church, school, public building, and other place of public assembly."
The problems associated with this proposed ordinance are numerous and fundamental. First the presumption of "knowingly" is of dubious constitutionality. "Knowing" transport is an element of the crime and the City is not free under the Due Process Clause to place the burden of disproving that element on the defendant. This has a particularly onerous application to the City, as it would be hard to travel anywhere in Baltimore without coming within 100 yards of at least one of the prohibited areas and it would be very easy to do so completely unknowingly. Second, the mandatory jail time and fine goes far beyond the minimum sentence imposed by Section 4-203, which punishes the first offense with a minimum sentence of 30 days, which a judge may suspend. Yet, the more draconian the penalty, the harder defense counsel will work to find a way to get the evidence thrown out. Judges generally hate mandatory sentences because such penalties sweep far too broadly to encompass innocent mistakes. Look for plea bargains to avoid this bill, if it became law. Third, given the police department problems in Baltimore addressed in the federal Consent Decree with the Department of Justice, successful enforcement of any such ordinance will likely be rare and almost certainly will be arbitrary and discriminatory.
Finally, and most fundamentally, the bad guys with illegal guns are no more likely to obey this ordinance than they are to obey Section 4-203, which already makes illegal the very same conduct (with a penalty of up to three years in prison) penalized by this proposed ordinance. Criminals simply don't obey laws. Since gun crimes and gun violence in Baltimore are already committed overwhelmingly by prohibited persons, the better approach to solving Baltimore's out-of-control murder rate would be to actually start to enforce MD Code Public Safety §5-133(c)(2) which makes handgun possession by such a prohibited person a felony, "subject to imprisonment for not less than 5 years and not exceeding 15 years." That Section likewise provides that a court "may not suspend any part of the mandatory minimum sentence of 5 years." Now, that's a mandatory minimum sentence with teeth and it is directly targeted at the very persons who should not have guns and who are most likely to misuse them. Prosecutors in the Office of Baltimore State's Attorney Marilyn Mosby, need to start bringing those charges and making them stick. Our hunch is that gun violence would drop rapidly once the gun toting, prohibited persons start going to the state penitentiary for a minimum of 5 years. Such gun possession by prohibited persons is also punished under federal law, 18 U.S.C. §924(a)(2), with 10 years in jail. Maybe the City could ask the Department of Justice and the United States Attorney for help like the City of Richmond very effectively did in Project Exile. Yet, proponents of this bill would rather pile on more mindless, ineffective gun control than actually do something to promote the use of existing laws that would really address the problem if only they were enforced.
If you live in the city, please write and/or call your city council members!
Mark W. Pennak, President, MSI