Larry Hogan: Common-sense solutions can come from senseless violence 

On June 28, the Annapolis community, the Capital Gazette, and most importantly the lives of five victims and their families were shattered by an act of unthinkable violence. In recent years, we’ve seen far too many similar acts of brutality. The Capital’s editorial board is right to publicly call for solutions.

I’ll leave it to others to try to explain how any person could perpetrate senseless violence like what we saw in Annapolis last month. I instead want to address The Capital and all those seeking better answers from their leaders. Our citizens need to feel safe where they work, play, go to school, and live. When violence erupts that shakes our confidence so profoundly, we must come together.

All too frequently in the wake of similar tragedies, the opportunity to have a real conversation about change seems pushed aside by the most sensational and most rigid voices. It is understandable that people are angry — so am I — but we cannot let anger and orthodoxy stand in the way of productive dialogue and common-sense ideas.

We must never forget the lives of Gerald Fischman, Rob Hiaasen, John McNamara, Rebecca Smith, and Wendi Winters. We remember their names and honor their memories, but failure to act does a disservice to all they stood for.

The truth is, violence such as we saw that day will not be solved by any one tool, intervention, or piece of legislation. I would, however, suggest that the model for how we begin is close to home.

Just this last legislative session, I worked with state lawmakers to pass landmark “red flag” legislation that allows a court to remove firearms from those who pose an immediate and present danger to themselves or others. Stakeholders across the political spectrum worked together to create a balanced piece of legislation I was proud to sign, along with a bill that bans bump stocks and another to keep guns away from domestic abusers.

Will this red-flag law stop all future shooters? Of course not — the hard truth is that no one law can. But we cannot stop there.

We need better information sharing between the courts, law enforcement, and probation. Our data systems need to be able to talk to each other and share information so that we don’t miss important leads and fail to stop the next shooter.

This is not to second-guess law enforcement who are already overburdened in their work, but to point out that we simply must find ways to better share information, assess threats, and take action to prevent future tragedies.

Maryland already has the toughest gun laws in the country, but it is clear to me that an effective, nationwide, universal background check system to keep firearms out of the hands of criminals and the dangerously mentally ill is a tool police need to stop more shooters. That’s just common sense and it is something I will continue to support.

It is also essential that we fully understand the role that mental illness can play in these shootings. People with mental illness should not be stigmatized; they need the same help as a person suffering from other diseases.

The bipartisan school safety legislation that I proposed and worked with legislators to pass this year takes significant steps to tackle mental health in our schools. It requires each school system to develop assessment teams to engage students experiencing mental health crises, and provides funding to help schools hire mental health counselors and school resource officers. I would like to see more ideas like this.

Finally, as your governor, I have a responsibility to every Marylander. In 2016, there were 707 firearm deaths in our state including 251 suicides and 436 homicides. Last year, I was horrified to see 342 murders in Baltimore City alone, and the overwhelming majority of those murders were committed using illegal handguns.

Hundreds of people are dying every year in our state, yet when we talk about new firearms laws, we often fixate on acts of violence rooted in mental illness and not cold-blooded murders committed by career criminals and repeat violent offenders.

During the last legislative session, we came together to pass my proposal for increased penalties for criminals using guns to terrorize our communities, as well as tougher sentences for repeat violent offenders. I firmly believe that as we talk about how we work to reduce gun violence, we cannot ignore the violence carried out by ruthless criminal gangs.

Prosecutors, police and courts need tools to take bad people, carrying out heinous gun crimes, off the street for good.

Here in Annapolis, there is more that we can and should do to honor the victims and memories of the Capital Gazette shooting. Aside from any one policy, bill, funding, or law enforcement action, however, is a shared commitment to civil discourse, reasoned ideas, and, perhaps most importantly, listening to each other on how we can work together to prevent these tragedies.

For too long now, we have looked to Washington to solve our problems and they have failed. Both sides have failed, precisely because there are two sides.

There is only one side to this issue and it is about saving human lives. We may disagree about the right course to pursue, but can we all check our party IDs at the door and agree to disagree civilly about how to best solve this?

That is how we’ve worked together in Annapolis to tackle health care, jobs, education, and the environment. I know we can do the same to honor the memories of those we lost and prevent future acts of violence.

Larry Hogan, an Annapolis Republcan, is the 62nd governor of Maryland.

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