Tweaking gun laws

The Baltimore Sun

Baltimore Mayor Sheila Dixon was back in Annapolis yesterday, trying to persuade legislators to tighten laws on illegal gun possession. Too often, she says, people convicted of possessing illegal guns spend little time in jail. A review of 2008 District Court cases by the mayor's staff found that judges gave suspended sentences to 86 percent of gun offenders who were convicted. That's not a punishment, it's a pass. What's more troubling is that many of these same offenders go on to commit more serious - and violent - crimes with a gun in hand.

Ms. Dixon isn't asking for much here. She has proposed a mandatory range of sentences - 18 months to 10 years - for people convicted of possession of an illegal, loaded gun. It's an attempt to actually get gun offenders off the street. And we say that because even when jail time is imposed, inmates can earn monthly good time credits that end up reducing their days behind bars, despite their sentences.

The mayor also has joined Baltimore State's Attorney Patricia C. Jessamy in trying to close a loophole in the law that basically undercuts a mandatory five-year no-parole sentence imposed on a gun offender who was previously convicted of a crime of violence or drug offense. Because of the loophole, the criminal can earn good-time credits in prison at a rate faster than some of his peers, which has the result of whittling that five-year sentence to about three years. It frustrates prosecutors' good work and sends the wrong message to gun offenders.

The two pieces of legislation are measured steps in the fight to reduce gun violence in Baltimore and other parts of Maryland. The first bill would be a hedge against gun offenders returning to the streets too soon. The second would restore some truth in sentencing for a class of felons shown to be a threat to public safety.

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