Maryland leaders respond to Capital Gazette call for gun violence legislation

Chase Cook
Contact Reporterccook@capgaznews.com

It’s been only a month since the Capital Gazette Editorial Board called on elected leaders to make Annapolis the last location of a mass shooting, and elected leaders and candidates have responded.

No legislation has been introduced, but some leaders are hopeful the death of five Capital Gazette staff members can lead to change.

Others, like U.S. Sen. Ben Cardin, are frank about the uphill battle against politicians that fear retribution from gun supporters and the National Rifle Association. Cardin visited the temporary Capital Gazette newsroom Friday where he advocated for universal background checks, stronger mental health services and preventing access to 3D-printed gun blueprints.

But getting to 60 votes and passing necessary legislation will be a challenge, the Maryland Democrat said.

“I’ll be brutally frank, (U.S. Sen.) Mitch McConnell believes it will hurt his base that he needs for his Republican members if he brings up gun safety,” Cardin said. “He is afraid to bring it up.”

Cardin’s visit came about a month after a gunman blasted through the glass doors of the Capital Gazette newsroom in Annapolis and killed five staff members: Gerald Fischman, Rob Hiaasen, John McNamara, Rebecca Smith and Wendi Winters.

Laurel resident Jarrod Ramos was arrested in the newsroom after the shooting. He has been charged with five counts of first-degree murder along with other related charges including attempted murder and assault. A trial date has not been set.

Cardin’s general election opponent, Republican Tony Campbell, has a different philosophy to solving gun violence — restoring America’s respect for life. He said the rise of mass shootings in the last few decades shows a lack of care for human life.

As for policy?

It is the government’s job to protect the life, liberty and property of its citizens, Campbell said, so federal and local governments need to give investigators and law enforcement officials the resources they need to identify and intervene when people are found to be a credible threat.

That intervention could be getting the person mental health assistance or keeping them away from weapons. Campbell pointed to the suspected shooter Ramos as an example.

Ramos had a long-standing grudge against the newspaper which he actively discussed on social media. In 2011, The Capital wrote about Ramos’ harassment charges filed by a former high school classmate. He eventually sued the newspaper for defamation and lost.

“There were signs before, from my understanding,” Campbell said. “Doing the due diligence of an investigation is the first level; it is not talking about taking rights away unilaterally. Being in the position where we allow this to happen again because government is not protecting the property, life, liberty and estate of people, I don’t agree with that all.”

Other politicians who answered the editorial board’s call so far were Gov. Larry Hogan, Democratic gubernatorial candidate Ben Jealous, County Executive Steve Schuh and his Democratic opponent Steuart Pittman.

Gun violence has been an American political issue for decades. This year will be no different.

Here is a look at other politicians’ comments and their calls to action.

Larry Hogan

In Hogan’s opinion column, he touted the state’s “red flag” legislation that allows courts to remove firearms from people found to pose an immediate and present danger to themselves.

He also called for more information sharing between the courts, law enforcement and probation officers. And he supports a nationwide, universal background check system to keep firearms away from criminals and the “dangerously mentally ill.”

Ben Jealous

The Democratic gubernatorial candidate said he wanted to treat gun violence like a public health crisis. As governor, Jealous pledged to fund gun violence research and would appoint an official within the Maryland Department of Health to “oversee an administration-wide response to the gun epidemic using science-based solutions.”

By responding to gun violence as a public health crisis, Jealous speculated it would lead to more innovations like trigger locks that open by fingerprint.

Steve Schuh

The Republican county executive responded by touting the county’s $2 million investment in the Baltimore Washington Medical Center to expand mental health services. That funding will allow the center to almost double the amount of beds available for mental health and addiction services.

He admonished America “glorifying violence,” saying the country has become desensitized to acts of violence. America should return to a time “when respect for life is ingrained from an early age,” he said.

Schuh plans to hold a mental health and violence prevention forum next month in which residents and experts will be asked to share their ideas.

Steuart Pittman

Pittman said he understands the value of owning firearms. He owns a handgun and uses it on “suffering and dying animals” when the “veterinarian is two hours away.”

If elected, Pittman pledged to start a gun violence task force that would include a wide swath of gun owners, public safety officers, victims, mental health experts and others. The task force will monitor the implementation of state laws, and it will send recommendations of new laws or improvements to the county’s state delegation.

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