Prison trumps a gun registry

The Baltimore Sun

On July 14, 1999, Derrick Shawndell Taylor pleaded guilty to illegally carrying a handgun. He was sentenced to three years, with two years, 11 months and 28 days of that sentence suspended. Taylor was to be under supervised probation for three years.

On Nov. 10, 2003, Taylor pleaded guilty to violating that probation and was sentenced to two years.

Had Taylor served that full two years, he would have been behind bars on the night of Jan. 10, 2005. Instead, Taylor made his way to a drug recovery house at the corner of 27th and Sisson streets to collect a drug debt from Antwon Arthur. An unsuspecting -- and very trusting -- Nathaniel Gulliver opened the door after Taylor and another man knocked.

The two forced their way into the recovery house and demanded that Arthur pay his drug debt. Arthur didn't have the cash. Gulliver left with Taylor's companion and cleaned out his bank account to pay the money.

That didn't satisfy Taylor. He shot Arthur, and then either he or his companion shot Gulliver, Steven Matthews and Shawn Brown. Brown jumped out a second-story window to escape the gunfire and survived his wounds; Gulliver, Matthews and Arthur were killed.

Gulliver was my first cousin. Murder in Baltimore is now very personal for me. And personally, I don't see how a gun offender registry in Baltimore helps me.

I don't see how it would have helped Nate. I don't see how it would have helped Matthews, Arthur and Brown either.

Earlier this week the City Council's public safety subcommittee approved a gun offender registry bill, at the urging of Mayor Sheila Dixon and acting police Commissioner Frederick H. Bealefeld III. I have to confess that it was Bealefeld's brother, Detective Charles Bealefeld, who was the lead homicide investigator into the recovery house murder and shootings. I feel personally indebted to the Bealefeld clan.

I just wish I could have the same enthusiasm for a gun offender registry as Commissioner Bealefeld.

According to a story by Sun reporter Alia Malik, the gun registry bill "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 conviction."

Excuse me, don't police and prosecutors already have that information? What would be in a gun offender registry that anybody with a computer couldn't get by going to the Web site

That's where I got the information about Taylor pleading guilty to handgun possession. I got the information about his guilty plea to drug distribution charges, too. That happened Jan. 8, 2003. Taylor was sentenced to six years with five years, 11 months and four days suspended. Once again Taylor got three years of supervised probation.

Forgive me if I sound a little cynical, but what good is a gun registry if cops catch offenders and then the system doesn't cook 'em? Or doesn't give offenders any time, if they are cooked?

The system had Taylor -- twice -- on gun and drug charges. Technically, the system cooked Taylor. He did plead guilty to the charges.

Then he walked out of the courtroom and eventually committed murder.

I'm not pointing any fingers of blame here. I realize prosecutors have to accept plea bargains in a court system that has more cases than it can handle. Sometimes prosecutors have to make a deal with the devil, allow defendants to plead guilty and walk so the system doesn't become overburdened.

But deals with the devil benefit only the devil.

Putting Baltimore's tiny but busy cadre of devils in a gun registry isn't a "rock-solid guarantee" that they won't be involved in fatal shootings, according to police spokesman Sterling Clifford.

"Given that roughly a little under half of our homicide suspects this year have priors for handgun possession," Clifford said, "knowing where they are and knowing who they are can only help us, in terms of monitoring them and perhaps seeing that they don't take the next step to becoming suspects. [The gun registry] is a tool, and it's a useful one."

Sheryl Goldstein, director of the mayor's Office on Criminal Justice, said the gun registry has one advantage over the Web site.

"Anybody who has a gun conviction in Baltimore City has to put their current address on the registry, which might not be on the Web site. This would be everybody who's been convicted within a three-year period. It would identify the people and their locations."

But on July 14, 1999, the state of Maryland knew precisely where Derrick Taylor was: in a courtroom, pleading guilty to a handgun possession charge. A gun registry might tell us where gun offenders are, but that's only part of the problem.

The real problem is getting them off the streets.

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