Gun offender registry goes to full council

The Baltimore Sun

The City Council's public safety subcommittee approved a bill yesterday that would create a gun offender registry, allowing police officers to keep tabs on people who have been convicted of gun crimes.

The bill will come before the full council next week and again in September. Councilman Robert W. Curran, the subcommittee's chairman, said he was "extremely confident" it would pass.

Police Commissioner Frederick H. Bealefeld III testified in favor of the measure, saying that it would help police find and arrest more gun criminals. City statistics show that more than half of homicide suspects are previous gun offenders, and 42 percent of defendants charged with felony gun crimes have been charged in the past.

"People who are charged with gun offenses have more of a chance of being charged with homicides and shootings," Bealefeld said.

So far this year, 193 homicides have been committed in the city - most by guns -compared with 167 at this time last year. The nonfatal shooting count is 456, 100 more than last year.

The bill, first proposed by Mayor Sheila Dixon in May and introduced in the council last month, would require those convicted of shootings or other violations of gun law to provide personal information to the police for a citywide database. Gun offenders would have to provide their names, aliases, addresses and information about their convictions. The Police Department could also decide to require photographs or other information.

All the information collected for the registry would be publicly available, meaning that residents could call the department to request information about gun offenders in their area. But the bill leaves the police the option of putting the information on a Web site with photographs -like the state's sex offender registry - and of using the information in ad campaigns.

Bealefeld said he had not decided whether to set up a more readily available database.

The mayor will support whatever the police decide but favors the idea of a searchable online database, said her spokesman, Anthony McCarthy.

"Mayor Dixon wants the police to have whatever makes their job easier," McCarthy said, adding: "The goal is to always let the public have as much access to the information as possible."

This year, New York City began its own registry, which does not include a public database. Gun offender registries have also been proposed in other cities including Chicago, Boston and San Francisco. Boston's proposal, which would make the database open to the public, has been criticized by opponents who believe that it would unfairly stigmatize gun offenders who have seen the error of their ways.

Some in Baltimore feel the same way, said Walker Gladden, 33, a youth coordinator at the Rose Street Center in Baltimore. Gladden has served time for armed robbery.

"It's going to create a mindset of being unforgiving," he said.

Even if the registry is private, it could be stigmatizing, said Sheryl Goldstein, who directs Dixon's criminal justice office. But that could work in the city's favor, she said.

"People will know that they are being watched," she said. "If they're worried about being on a gun registry, they're going to think twice about picking up a gun."

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