A new city law requiring gun owners to notify police when their weapon is lost or stolen will help police track down the "bad guy with guns" Baltimore City Police Commissioner Frederick H. Bealefeld III said yesterday.
"This is an added tool," Bealefeld said. "I am hoping that other people throughout the state will take notice."
The law, which takes effect Nov. 11, requires gun owners to alert police within two days from the time they notice their weapon is missing. Failing to report a missing weapon will be a misdemeanor carrying a $500 fine for a first offense. Subsequent violations could result in $750 fines and up to 90 days imprisonment.
Bealefeld said loose weapons quickly become a public safety concern.
"The threat to a community is very real," said Bealefeld. "I don't think these [stolen] guns wind up in the hands of people who then go target shooting. They don't. They use them to rob people and shoot people."
From January 2007 to March 2008, 63 guns were reported stolen in Baltimore, a number that city officials believe is low.
Andrew Arulanandam, a spokesman from the National Rifle Association, called the new law "frivolous" and said it affects only law-abiding gun owners. The initiative adds "another layer of burden for someone who has already been a victim of crime," he said.
Arulanandam said Baltimore leaders should concentrate more on enforcing current laws than adding new ones.
But city officials contend that the new reporting requirements will make it easier for police to build cases against the so-called "straw purchasers" - people who resell legally purchased guns on the black market.
When detectives trace guns that have been used in crimes, they interview the last legal owner and often run into snags.
"When we knock on the door, they go 'Oh that gun was taken out of my car.' Or 'That was stolen after I had a party,' " Bealefeld said. "What really happened is they sold the gun."
The new law, Bealefeld said, "gives us a way of breaking down that fraud."
The idea is part of Mayor Sheila Dixon's anti-gun strategy, and her staff tried to persuade the General Assembly to pass a similar measure this year. Those efforts failed, but Sheryl Goldstein, director of the Mayor's Office on Criminal Justice, said she hopes the city can go back to Annapolis with more data later and push for a similar statewide regulation.
Critics have challenged the new rules, pointing to a state law that prohibits local governments from adopting regulations restricting gun ownership. But this month state Attorney General Douglas F. Gansler issued a 12-page opinion saying the new ordinance was acceptable because it does not deal with ownership.