If you were to ask the average citizen in Maryland what their biggest concern is, they would probably tell you that curbing violent crime and increasing public safety tops their list. As I wrap up my fifth legislative session, it has become crystal clear that the General Assembly does not view curbing violent crime as a priority, let alone its top one.
With a new governor and an expanded Democrat supermajority in Annapolis, no significant legislation to improve public safety from repeat violent offenders has passed.
The Senate Republican Caucus once again put forth legislation this year to help hold violent offenders accountable. SB744, the Violent Firearms Offender Act of 2023, is a reintroduction of the version of the Violent Firearms Offenders Act that passed the Senate during the 2021 session. A previous iteration of the bill also passed the Senate in 2020.
This bill would raise the penalty for using a firearm in a violent crime from a misdemeanor to a felony and remove the loophole that allows drug dealers to receive lighter sentences than someone else convicted of the same crime. Additionally, the legislation would increase the penalty for illegally possessing a firearm to five years in prison or a $10,000 fine on first offense, and 10 years or a $10,000 fine thereafter. The bill also makes knowingly selling a firearm to someone who plans to use it in the commission of a crime a felony.
The other priority legislation to curb violent crime offered by the Senate Republican Caucus was SB654, the Gun Theft Felony Act of 2023. SB654 has also been introduced in past years and would make the theft of a firearm a felony, not a misdemeanor.
To put things in perspective, Maryland’s largest city has had its murder rate increase eight years in a row and has seen an overall increase in crime. The General Assembly’s top priority should be to tackle this ongoing problem. It seems that instead of opting to hold users of illegal firearms accountable, the majority party has once again chosen to target law-abiding, licensed and legal firearm users.
SB1, the Gun Safety Act of 2023 was introduced in response to the Supreme Court decision in New York State Rifle & Pistol Association, Inc. v. Bruen that ruled New York’s carry laws were unconstitutional due to their requirement to show proper cause to obtain a permit. Maryland’s law was similar to New York in that applicants needed to provide a “good and substantial reason” to obtain a wear and carry permit.
SB1, which I voted against and believe to be plainly unconstitutional, limits where you can wear and carry a firearm. One of the most controversial provisions of the bill prohibits a person from carrying a firearm into a restaurant that sells alcohol even if you are not buying or consuming alcohol.
One of the reasons offered by the majority party in Annapolis as to why they are going after legal firearm owners, who are folks that must go through hours of expensive firearm training and courses to obtain a wear and carry permit, is that applications to obtain a wear and carry permit have greatly increased. What they fail to understand is that these wear and carry permit applications increased because our citizens do not feel safe.
It’s my core belief that one of the main duties and functions of government is to keep its citizens safe. Unfortunately, this General Assembly has made it loud and clear that it does not view your safety as a priority.
I would like to take a moment to encourage current high school seniors or college students living in District 35 that are planning to attend a Maryland institution to consider applying for a Maryland Senatorial Scholarship. For those interested in applying, please contact my office at firstname.lastname@example.org or 410-841-3603, and my staff will be happy to provide you with an application and more information.
I am looking forward to the final days of session and sincerely thank the citizens of Harford and Cecil counties for the opportunity to serve you in the legislature.
Sen. Jason C. Gallion
Sen. Jason Gallion is a Republican representing District 35 in Harford and Cecil counties.