Stop stolen guns in Baltimore County by requiring retailers to secure the weapons they sell | COMMENTARY

Baltimore County Executive Johnny Olszewski Jr. and Baltimore County Police Chief Melissa Hyatt want gun retailers to better secure their merchandise to reduce the number of crimes committed with stolen weapons.
Baltimore County Executive Johnny Olszewski Jr. and Baltimore County Police Chief Melissa Hyatt want gun retailers to better secure their merchandise to reduce the number of crimes committed with stolen weapons.(Libby Solomon/Towson Times / Baltimore Sun Media Group)

In May 2015, shortly after celebrating a Mother’s Day cookout with his wife and son, 36-year-old Harry Davis Jr. was shot and killed near his home in Baltimore. The weapon used to murder Mr. Davis was not obtained legally — it was stolen in a burglary of a North Carolina gun shop before being obtained by the person who killed Mr. Davis.

More than 5,650 firearms were stolen nationwide in burglaries from firearm retailers in 2018 alone, according to the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives. Stolen firearms are often sold or traded to criminals, providing deadly weapons to many individuals barred from owning guns. These weapons in turn are used to commit violent crimes — like in the tragic case of Mr. Davis.


Communities across Maryland, including in Baltimore County, have experienced similar burglaries. In 2018 and 2019 alone, there were 10 burglaries or attempted burglaries at seven different firearm retail establishments in Baltimore County. More than 50 firearms were stolen in those incidents. Meanwhile, last summer, criminals targeted establishments in Howard County and Montgomery County on successive nights, stealing a total of 45 weapons. Often, even after arrests are made in these cases, stolen firearms are never recovered.

More can be done to stop these crimes, and we have an obligation to do so. That is why we are proposing the Secure All Firearms Effectively (SAFE) Act: a straightforward public safety solution to keep stolen guns off our streets and out of the hands of violent criminals.

The SAFE Act sets minimum security standards for firearm retailers and gun shows to deter would-be burglars and prevent guns from being stolen. Specifically, the bill creates a new county license requiring a police department-approved plan that uses a combination of physical security, video surveillance and alarm systems to provide a baseline level of security.

Security requirements have already been enacted in other jurisdictions, including Connecticut, Illinois, Minnesota, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island and West Virginia — and they work. New Jersey, a state with a policy similar to the SAFE Act, saw three firearms stolen by burglars between 2012 and 2017 while North Carolina, a state without requirements, saw 1,400 firearms burgled over that same period.

Although firearm retail establishments are protected by staff during the day, some do not safely lock away merchandise after normal business hours. Others are inconsistent in how they do so, with some even leaving their firearms inventory totally exposed.

Despite being frequent targets for criminals, these stores have no legal requirement to secure their business or their inventory at night — a stark contrast to other retailers. Medical cannabis dispensaries, for example, must meet strict security requirements under state law to secure merchandise after business hours and under federal law, pharmacies must utilize physical security measures to protect medications. The same should be true for firearms.

Good government identifies problems and brings people to the table to find solutions. In that spirit, Baltimore County’s SAFE Act has been developed in consultation with law enforcement, business owners and firearms experts. As a result of these conversations, we have proposed a flexible bill that recognizes the unique circumstances of each individual business. In fact, the SAFE Act accomplishes the security we need with requirements less stringent than those for Maryland’s cannabis dispensaries.

We want to be clear: this public safety proposal has absolutely no impact on the rights of individuals wishing to purchase firearms. Rather, it ensures that the guns for sale at firearm retail establishments can be purchased by law-abiding individuals rather than being stolen by criminals.


In developing this proposal, we have seen that many retailers in Baltimore County are responsible partners who have already taken significant steps to keep their inventory secure. The SAFE Act will simply ask all retail establishments to be held to that same standard.

As the county executive and police chief for one of Maryland’s largest jurisdictions, we take our responsibility to keep communities safe very seriously. That means constantly examining our policing strategies, looking at opportunities for innovation and acting decisively to ensure our neighborhoods and communities remain safe.

We encourage the County Council to support this common-sense legislation to make Baltimore County our state’s first jurisdiction to take this step to keep illegal guns off the street and help prevent tragic deaths from these crimes.

Melissa Hyatt (policechief@baltimorecountymd.gov) is the police chief for Baltimore County. Johnny Olszewski Jr. (johnnyo@baltimorecountymd.gov) is the Baltimore County Executive. Their Twitter handles are @ChiefMHyatt and @BaltCoExec.1.