FRANK R. WEATHERSBEE, the state's attorney in Anne Arundel County, has the right idea about vigorously prosecuting handgun possession cases. Once people start going to jail for having handguns in cars and trucks without a permit, more people will think twice about casually "packing heat" when they drive to work or run errands.
Mr. Weathersbee's new policy acknowledges a growing problem. The number of weapons violations in Anne Arundel has been climbing steadily. In the first nine months of this year, police have filed 873 charges for illegal weapons possession. This averages out to about slightly more than three per day. These arrests are usually made because police have stopped motorists for traffic infractions and then discover a handgun in the vehicle.
In Maryland, people who want to carry handguns in their cars and trucks need a permit from the state police. The only exception is transporting guns to and from repair shops, target ranges or shooting competitions.
Mr. Weathersbee has formed a team that will pick up any District Court cases involving illegal handgun possession and refer them to Thomas Pryal, an experienced prosecutor. He will transfer these cases to Circuit Court and pursue them vigorously.
In addition, Mr. Pryal has been instructed to try 16- and 17-year-olds as adults, not as juveniles. Nearly half of the District Court cases involving handgun possession are against juveniles, prosecutors say. Most of these involve youths who have been stopped for a routine traffic violation and been found with a gun, police say.
Having these cases referred to Circuit Court won't result in stiffer penalties alone. Rahter, each case will receive more scrutiny than it would in District Court, where cases are handled in assembly-line fashion. At the circuit level, there is less chance of repeat offenders beating the charges because an overworked prosecutor lacked the necessary paperwork.
Obviously, police who are making weapons arrests are dealing with the proverbial tip of the iceberg. One can only imagine how many motorists are illegally toting guns. If Mr. Weathersbee's policy encourages these people to keep their firearms at home, his efforts would be deemed a tremendous success.
Pub Date: 12/10/96