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Anne Arundel County Gun Violence Prevention Task Force releases its final report. Here’s what you need to know.

Members of the Gun Violence Prevention Task Force wore orange Friday in honor of Gun Violence Awareness Day as they presented their final report in a Zoom meeting
Members of the Gun Violence Prevention Task Force wore orange Friday in honor of Gun Violence Awareness Day as they presented their final report in a Zoom meeting (Jenny Proebstle)

Anne Arundel County’s Gun Violence Prevention Task Force’s final report recommends further restrictions on gun ownership, background checks on all firearm sales and 53 other ideas the group hopes will reduce gun violence.

County Health Officer Dr. Nilesh Kalyanaraman, a member of the task force, has said the public health approach taken by the group focuses not on Second Amendment issues or political debates but on saving lives. The task force presented the final report on Gun Violence Awareness Day, many of them wearing orange shirts and ties for the Zoom meeting to honor it.

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The report aims for improvement at the interpersonal level, community level and societal level, by suggesting policy changes at the county and state level.

“I think we are going to show other jurisdictions that local government actually can do something about gun violence, it’s not only what Congress does with gun laws, which I think is very important, and it’s not only what the state does,” said County Executive Steuart Pittman. “But we are where the rubber meets the road, and we are going to be able to reduce gun violence, I think, but also to show the higher levels of government what needs to happen.”

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Pittman said that this should not be put on the back burner because of the coronavirus pandemic, but argued it is more important now than ever, citing a historic increase in gun sales since early March.

The coronavirus pandemic also delayed the publication of the final report, which was originally due to Pittman May 1.

Pittman created the group early in his term, a response to the June 28, 2018 newsroom shooting at the Capital Gazette, in which John McNamara, Gerald Fischman, Rob Hiaasen, Rebecca Smith and Wendi Winters were killed.

Members of the task force include community members impacted by gun violence, activists, members of the local NAACP, law enforcement representatives, elected officials and others. The task force partnered with LUMA Health Consulting for the final report. A preliminary report was released in December.

Following its release, Councilman Nathan Volke, R-Pasadena, led the county in declaring suicide a public health crisis because data in the report showed that a large percentage of gun deaths are suicides.

Another notable aspect of the data in the report: Racial disparities. Black men account for a disproportionately high percentage of homicides, and firearm injuries compared to the percentage of the county population they make up.

Taskforce members said police brutality and systemic racism will be considered as the county moves to the next step. The report was finished before the killing of George Floyd by a Minneapolis police officer prompted global protests with more police violence in the U.S. Kalyanaraman is working to establish an interagency Gun Violence Intervention Team, which will be responsible for implementing these recommendations and evaluating their effectiveness.

“This was never going to be, and never intended to be a be-all, end-all report,” said co-chair Andrea Chamblee, who lost her husband McNamara to gun violence in The Capital shooting. “We hope it’s a good start.”

State-level changes

The report outlines eight state-level policy recommendations that would target societal change, through the lens with which the task force produced the report. Broadly, the group suggested legislation that would restricti who could buy and own guns and when missing guns should be reported.

They suggest requiring gun purchasing licenses for anyone trying to buy a gun and requiring criminal background checks for all firearm purchases. The Maryland General Assembly passed a bill earlier this year which would have required background checks for rifles and shotguns, but Gov. Larry Hogan vetoed it along with a host of other crime-related legislation.

The task force also recommended restrictions be implemented for who can buy a gun, including limiting people who had previously been convicted of alcohol-related charges, violence, or people who had been charged or convicted of intimate partner violence.

Also in an effort to make sure a gun doesn’t end up in the wrong hands, the task force recommends requiring that unattended firearms be secured with a child safety lock and suggests legislation that would change the reporting requirement for a missing firearm to be within 48 hours rather than 72 as it stands in current state law. Former Del. Alice Cain, D-Annapolis, had been working on legislation to change the reporting time limit before she resigned in March due to unforeseen family circumstances.

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County-level changes

The community-level changes recommended in the report focus mostly on county-level policy, funding suggestions, and are focused on prevention efforts, such as calling on officials to declare gun violence a public health crisis and suggesting the county join the National Gun Safety Consortium. Other recommendations call on county officials to stand up community engagement and education efforts or programs, including creating a victim response team, similar to the Crisis Response Team, to support victims of gun violence.

They also called on the county to establish a central repository to collect data on gun violence, risk mitigation and protective factors, and make them all available in one place. This would also specifically include information on racial and ethnic disparities in which communities are affected by gun violence. To further address these disparities, the report calls for a consortium to be stood up and charged with implementing recommendations, community outreach and other gun safety initiatives.

For spreading information about gun violence and information about victim resources, the report calls for compiling a publicly available list; ensuring county agencies have relevant information to share and publicize; and promoting firearm safety courses across the county.

These efforts would also take place in schools, where the task force calls for violence prevention and reduction programs to be implemented.

Law enforcement changes

Most of the law enforcement changes recommended in the report target de-escalation and prevention of gun violence with ideas like including officers in public health awareness programming, training them in firearm safety and expanding the existing Crisis Response Team to respond to instances of gun violence.

The report also suggests the County Council enact policy to require gun and pawnshops to keep ammunition logs — noting each time an ammunition sale is made. The legislation should require the logs be accessible and reportable to the Anne Arundel County Police Department. Additionally, the report calls on the county to forge relationships with businesses selling guns and ammunition and encourage resources on suicide, domestic violence and gun safety be provided at the point of sale.

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Also within the police department, the task force wants to see the establishment of a firearms examiner position. Funding for this position would have to be approved in the county budget. The task force would like to see an overhaul of police records management system, which would streamline data collection and case management, and replace the current system used to document gun-related incidents.

Local health care professionals

The report offers several recommendations specific to health care settings and professionals, including those who practice in behavioral health and mental health. It calls on the county to partner with hospitals and health care systems to develop strategies for education on firearm safety and reducing gun violence.

“This engagement must include hospitals partnering with local communities to identify and respond to the social determinants of health, especially those which contribute to structural causes of violent behavior in underserved communities,” the report says.

Most of these recommendations seek to reduce risk and enhance protections on the interpersonal relationship level, including screening “high-risk” situations including depression, substance abuse disorder, the presence of intimate-partner violence, risks associated with geriatric populations including dementia, and to develop protocols to provide interventions and support patients. Health care providers should also be trained in mental health first aid; lethal means reduction, a means to reduce suicidality; and threat assessment.

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