“The Public Wants to Make Stealing a Gun a Felony”

-The following article was submitted by Delegates Ryan Nawrocki & Kathy Szeliga (District 7A) and Lauren Arikan (District 7B) about how the public wants to make stealing a gun a felony.-

This past legislative session, the House Republican Caucus issued a joint statement detailing our priorities – Reducing Crime, Improving Education, and Restoring our Economy. Crime, education, and the economy touch each and every one of us – whether progressive or conservative.

Unfortunately, the many bills sponsored by the Republican Caucus to address these issues were not passed. Now months after session has ended, a newly released poll looks at how Marylanders feel about topics ranging from stricter gun laws to a ban on gas-powered vehicles. The results of the poll taken by 840 Marylanders were not that surprising but may shock the liberals in Annapolis.

An overwhelming majority of Marylanders say they favor increased penalties for those convicted of possession of a stolen firearm. The poll was released last week by Annapolis-based Gonzales Research &; Media Service, and it found that strong, broad-based support for stiffer penalties exists across a wide spectrum of state voters. Statewide, a staggering 89% agree that it should be a felony to possess a stolen firearm (an overwhelming 77% “strongly” agree and 12% “somewhat” agree), while a lonely 8% disagree (5% “strongly” disagree and 3% “somewhat” disagree).

This was an astounding confirmation of what Republicans have been trying to do for more than five years in Maryland. However, these bills to curb crime introduced by Republicans fail largely along party lines. We have been pleading with Democrats in Annapolis to make stealing a gun a felony, including hosting a press conference in March to highlight this very issue. Democrats have protected criminals who steal firearms rather than increased sentences of felony convictions for gun thieves.

An example of Republican-sponsored legislation is the Juvenile Gun Offenses Accountability Act (HB 753) which would have allowed the appropriate prosecution of juveniles under 13 who commit gun crimes. As expected, the bill didn’t even make it out of committee. We sponsored and cosponsored another bill this past session altering the age from 13 years old to 11 years old, where a child can be subject to the exclusive original jurisdiction of the juvenile court. In reaction to the uptick in crime with heart-wrenching stories like Nakayla Strawder and other victims who have lost their lives at another child's hand, we believe that something must be done to address violent crime in Maryland.

Another piece of legislation (HB 1190), Juveniles-Truancy Reduction Pilot Program-Expansion, passed the House unanimously but did not make it through the Senate. The bill was requested by the Maryland Judicial Conference and still did not make its way into law. This program would have held juveniles and their parents accountable when they are chronically missing school. We
enthusiastically supported this bill. Students can only learn if they are in school, which helps prevent Baltimor’s school-to-prison pipeline. Hopefully, the bill will come back next year.

For far too long, the policies coming out of Annapolis have tended to be pro-criminal rather than protecting our citizens. The government has a fundamental responsibility to protect the safety of our citizens. Maryland has some of the most restrictive gun laws in the United States, yet the number of murders and violent crimes committed with guns continues to grow every year, with the overwhelming majority of those committed with stolen guns.

Baltimore City’s State’s Attorney Ivan Bates pressed for increased mandatory sentencing for people
illegally carrying firearms. The measure did pass. We supported that. However, the liberals had to put it in a bill with bad concessions. We voted against HB 824, which was working to limit law- abiding citizens’ ability to carry a firearm legally. It passed along party lines.

The leadership in Annapolis also refuses to close the drug dealer loophole that says if someone is dealing drugs and has an illegal firearm, they cannot be charged with the firearm crime. In the closing moments of Sine Die on April 10th, Republicans stopped the “Drug King Pin” Bill.

Astonishingly, liberals were attempting to reduce criminal punishments for traffickers distributing heroin, fentanyl, and other deadly narcotics that are leading Marylanders to their untimely deaths by the thousands – not to mention how these substances have also resulted in an increase in violent crime and homelessness across communities.

Legislation was also introduced to bring mandatory sentences to repeat violent offenders using illegal firearms. The liberals in Annapolis refused even to give that bill a vote. Every year for at least a decade, the Republicans introduce a bill to make stealing a gun a felony.

It’s currently a misdemeanor – Maryland is one out of four states with such a trivial penalty. The bill dies on a
party-line vote every year. We hope these new poll results will make a difference in the future. Governor Moore rolled out his public safety plan last week shortly after the pull was released. He shared in his announcement that “In major state rankings on public safety, Maryland underperformed our peers in Virginia, Massachusetts, and also New Jersey,”; said Moore.

‘And, despite those numbers, government failed to assemble a robust, a comprehensive, and a full on plan for public safety that would allow us not just to respond to crime but to actually address the root causes of crime. But that was the past. This administration is ready to move in a different way on public safety.”

While we support the Governor’s plan, we are disappointed to hear him speak so poorly of the past when the Violent Firearm Offender Act of 2023 was defeated again – for the fifth year in a row.

The results from the poll show a stark difference between what is happening in Annapolis and the will of the people of Maryland. The research company remarked on the results saying, “Here is what makes this result so interesting… typically we see a huge discrepancy between Democratic attitudes and Republican attitudes…here, there is near unanimity…about 90 percent of Marylanders whether they are black, or white, or male, or female, or young, or old, or progressive, or conservative…agree that the possession of a stolen firearm should be a felony.”

If Marylanders are all in agreement, what is stopping the majority party from passing this simple step in curbing crime?
When will Annapolis hold the criminals accountable? We look forward to continued discussion on these poll results and will continue to impart this message to our colleagues in Annapolis.

B.J. Joseph

Benjamin Joesph has covered news in Eastern Baltimore County since 2006. He started as a reporter with the original East County Times in 2006. He started East Baltco News and later Eastcountytimes.com in 2022.