City mayor to lobby state legislature for stiffer gun penalties

Baltimore Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake announced Wednesday that she will seek legislation that would enhance the penalties for illegal gun possession and make the crime a felony.

Speaking before a group of top law enforcement officials, Rawlings-Blake called for a change to state laws that would create a minimum sentence of 18 months and a maximum sentence of 10 years for defendants arrested with an illegal, loaded firearm. The current penalties call for sentences between 30 days and three years.

Aides say Rawlings-Blake plans a grass-roots effort to lobby for the bill -- she has been pitching the proposal in meetings with community groups and plans to launch a website and social media efforts to get residents behind it.

"Too many of these convicted gun offenders are quickly released back into the community and go on to commit other gun crimes," Rawlings-Blake said.

Mayor Sheila Dixon made a push for an 18-month minimum in 2009 that failed, with key legislators saying they oppose mandatory sentences. Rawlings-Blake's legislation would take that bill a step further by also increasing the maximum sentence.

If passed, the penalty would still fall short of what gun offenders face in New York, which is considered to have the country's toughest gun laws. The minimum penalty for carrying a loaded gun there is more than three years, said Sheryl Goldstein, director of the Mayor's Office on Criminal Justice.

Maryland judges often sentence gun offenders to time served or suspended prison time. The mayor's office said statistics show 82 percent of the jail time imposed by the courts for misdemeanor gun offenders this year was suspended.

The average amount of jail time served by misdemeanor gun offenders for cases handled in District Court is four months.