Baltimore County councilwoman wants to expand gun laws, limiting teens' access

A Baltimore County councilwoman has introduced legislation she says is intended to prevent teens from getting their hands on guns.

Vicki Almond, a Reisterstown Democrat who is running for county executive, wants to prohibit people from having loaded firearms in a place where an unsupervised minor under age 18 could get access to them.

The bill introduced Monday largely mirrors existing state law, which prohibits anyone from leaving a loaded firearm somewhere where the person “knew or should have known” that an unsupervised child under age 16 could gain access to it.

Almond’s bill would be more strict than state law because it would include 16- and 17-year-olds. Under both existing state law and Almond’s proposal, violators would face a misdemeanor charge.

Council members are scheduled to discuss the bill at a May 29 meeting. A vote is set for June 4.

Almond said she is naming the bill “Leia’s Law” for her now 16-year-old granddaughter. Two years ago, she said, her granddaughter was accidentally shot in the foot at the home of a 15-year-old friend. The girl underwent surgery to save her foot.

“It was quite traumatic for the whole family, but especially for Leia,” Almond said.

The legislation would not have affected that case, Almond said. But she said the incident made the issue of guns “very personal for me.”

“It might just be another tool to be able to keep kids safe,” she said of her bill.

Almond also cited the March shooting at Great Mills High School in St. Mary’s County. In that case, authorities say, 17-year-old Austin Wyatt Rollins took his father’s legally owned pistol to school and killed 16-year-old Jaelynn Willey and wounded 14-year-old Desmond Barnes before killing himself.

The group Marylanders for the Prevention of Gun Violence praised Almond’s legislation.

“We need more leaders at all levels of government working on this issue,” said Jen Pauliukonis, the group’s president. “This is something we should be open to discussing and open to tackling.”

Mark Pennak, president of the gun-rights group Maryland Shall Issue, said that as a handgun instructor, he values safety. But he raised doubts about whether the bill would be effective.

“I doubt that this will have much effect on anything, except criminalizing more people who are not currently subject to criminal penalties,” Pennak said. In the Great Mills High School shooting, he said, it is not clear how Rollins obtained the gun.

Pennak asked whether the county legislation was being “used as a political leverage point.”

“Of course safety is a good idea,” he said. “That’s not the question. The question is whether or not this is actually going to be effective.”

Guns have been an issue in the Democratic primary for Baltimore County executive, in which Almond is facing state Sen. Jim Brochin and Johnny Olszewski Jr., a former state delegate.

Two Republicans are running in the June 26 primary: state Del. Patrick L. McDonough and state Insurance Commissioner Al Redmer Jr.

Almond touted her bill in an email to her campaign supporters this week.

“Keeping all Baltimore County families and children safe must be the County Council’s top priority,” Almond said in the email. “Leia’s Law is a commonsense solution to help keep firearms out of the hands of children.”

In April, Almond called upon Brochin to donate political contributions he has received from gun-related organizations to gun violence prevention. Brochin criticized Almond fo r taking contributions from developers and development attorneys.

Brochin could not be reached for comment.

Olszewski has faced criticism in the race for his past positions on gun legislation, including his vote as a state delegate against the Firearm Safety Act of 2013.

In an op-ed in The Baltimore Sun, Olszewski said he has “evolved” and he now feels his votes on guns were wrong.

He said this week he supports Almond’s proposal.

“I support the legislation, particularly through the eyes of being a father and wanting to prevent gun violence for all of our children,” Olszewski said.

alisonk@baltsun.com

twitter.com/aliknez

Copyright © 2018, The Baltimore Sun, a Baltimore Sun Media Group publication | Place an Ad
36°