Republican lawmakers in Maryland are asking the state’s Democratic governor to call legislators back to Annapolis for a special session in the wake of a mass shooting in Baltimore during the Independence Day weekend; not to adopt any more gun control legislation, which the state has plenty of already, but to focus on violent offenders and increasing the penalty for possessing a stolen firearm.
With Democrats firmly in control of both chambers of the legislature, however, Republicans should think twice about whether they really want Gov. Wes Moore to agree to their demands. After all, while Republicans can bring forward bills during a special session, so too can the state’s anti-gun majority. A special session may end up making things even worse for lawful gun owners while doing nothing to address violent crime.
“While there are no plans for a special session, the Moore-Miller administration is committed to working with the legislature to explore all possible options to curb the gun violence epidemic that has plagued Maryland for far too long,” Moore spokesman Carter Elliott IV said in a statement Friday.
Senate Minority Leader Steve Hershey said a special session would be for lawmakers to revisit a Republican-sponsored bill to increase penalties for gun-related offenses and set mandatory sentences for repeat offenders, and another that would make the theft of a handgun a felony in the state, rather than a misdemeanor.
Last session, neither bill made it out of the committee to which it was assigned for a final vote of passage.
In a tweet Friday, Hershey, a Republican, wrote, “A single-issue special session allows observation of lawmaking process to pass common[-]sense bills to get illegal guns off the streets and put repeat violent offenders in jail.
A special session would also spotlight “advocacy groups and legislators that oppose criminals being accountable for their actions,” Hershey wrote.
Democrats already had the chance to get tough on violent offenders and to mandate more serious consequences for stealing firearms, but they rejected those proposals in favor of going after lawful gun owners and concealed carry holders instead. I have a hunch that if Moore did bring legislators back to Annapolis this summer or fall we’d once again see legal gun owners as the primary target of the Democratic majority, and a special session could end up with more gun control laws aimed at legal gun owners while criminals once again skate free. It sounds like at least one GOP lawmaker shares those concerns.
“If we called a special session to make the theft of a gun a felony, that’s something I’d support,” said House Minority Whip Jesse Pippy, a Republican.
But, Pippy said, he wouldn’t get behind a special session focusing on legislation to “erode concealed carry permits rights.”
A spokesman for House Speaker Adrienne Jones, a Democrat, did not immediately respond to an email request for comment.
A spokesman for Senate President Bill Ferguson said “the laws are on the books,” and that the holiday weekend tragedies underscore the need for state and local governments, police departments and community organizations to work together to combat gun violence.
Speaking at a press conference after the Baltimore shooting, Ferguson, a Baltimore Democrat, said, “we’ve done what we could at the state level to try and find ways for it to be harder to get guns into people’s hands.
“This is the problem with too many guns in too many hands of people that make life and death decisions,” Ferguson said. “It is not OK. Something has to give.”
What should give way is the Democrats’ insistence that the only way to combat violent crime is to try to ban their way to safety. The GOP proposals are aimed in the right direction, but I don’t see them getting far given the current makeup of the legislature. Heck, I’d like to see Maryland revisit its juvenile justice “reforms” adopted over the past couple of years, especially in light of some of the appalling violence we’ve seen committed by teens illegally possessing firearms in the state, but that too is likely off the table.
What Maaryland really needs is a political sea change, not a special session. The state’s Republican minority is right to raise these issues, but as long as the majority is more interested in cracking down on legal gun owners than violent crime a special session could easily backfire and end up causing more far more harm than help to beleaguered residents who want to protect themselves and their loved ones.