Baltimore needs another gun law to close the loophole.
As Baltimore police and prosecutors race to tamp down a sustained spike in violence, many of the charges against people caught with illegal guns aren’t sticking, or defendants are only jailed for a fraction of their sentence.
About one-quarter of such gun cases are dropped before defendants go to trial, according to a Baltimore Sun analysis. Even when convicted of illegally possessing a firearm, prosecutors say, defendants are sentenced on average to 16 months in jail, with a substantial portion of their sentences suspended.
At the same time, police data show that fewer people arrested with illegal guns are ordered held without bail.
In one case, a 23-year-old man was granted bail after being arrested in the city with a fully loaded revolver and is now accused of fatally stabbing a man in Baltimore County five days after his release. The arrestee had a felony record and faced a mandatory five years in prison on the gun charge.
“There’s no certainty of a consequence,” Police Commissioner Kevin Davis said of the Baltimore justice system, adding that he believes carrying an illegal gun should be viewed as a “pre-murder” crime.
Daniel Webster, a Johns Hopkins University professor who studies gun crime and has been consulting with city leaders, says the criminal justice system has been re-examining sentencing and bails, and not everyone deserves lengthy prison time. At the same time, he said, research shows “focusing on gun offenders very consistently, when done well, correlates with fewer people getting shot.”
The city is on track for more than 300 homicides this year, and last year’s count reached a historic per-capita high. In Baltimore, one of every three people shot dies, making it one of the most lethal cities in America, a recent Sun investigation found.
To address the problems, Davis and State’s Attorney Marilyn J. Mosby announced last month that they would launch a new unit to focus more closely on these gun crimes to ensure their cases are stronger and that they secure better convictions. This month, Mosby named a veteran homicide prosecutor to oversee the unit.