Dear Fellow Marylanders,
As the country celebrated its birthday last weekend, festive block parties turned tragic as gun violence erupted in our own backyard and across the country. It’s been a deadly summer, and we have only made it through the first week in July.
In Salisbury, 14-year-old Xavier Cordei Maddox was killed and six others injured during an overnight July 4th block party. It came just days after a horrific mass shooting July 1 at an annual block party for the South Baltimore Brooklyn neighborhood that claimed the lives of a young man and a young woman, while injuring 28 others, many of whom are teenagers. Twenty-year-old Kylis Fagbemi, died at an area hospital and 18-year-old Aaliyah Gonzalez was pronounced dead at the scene. Just weeks before the shooting, Gonzalez graduated from Glen Burnie High School in Anne Arundel County. She had recently decided to enroll at Anne Arundel Community College to stay closer to her family, according to news reports.
I joined Governor Wes Moore and Baltimore Mayor Brandon Scott in a visit to the Brooklyn neighborhood this past Tuesday, July 4. As I said at the time, this is a dark moment for our community and the country. People who shouldn’t have guns have guns, and they are causing irreversible harm.
Public safety – as always – must be our top priority. Sympathy and words are not enough. A comprehensive approach to reducing violence includes cracking down on illegal guns, many of which flow from other states into Maryland, as well as stricter regulation of legal gun purchases.
Mayor Scott summarized the need for action: “You’re talking about a country where it’s easier for a 14-year-old kid to order pieces together, to put a gun together and go out and use it and commit a crime than it is for me to get Claritin D from CVS. That’s what we should be talking about every day in this country.”
Maryland has been working at it. The General Assembly, with Governor Moore’s signature, recently enacted legislation in Annapolis to strengthen gun safety rules regarding carrying of concealed weapons, restricting the carrying of firearms in sensitive locations such as schools and health care facilities, strengthening safe storage requirements for firearms, and raising the age from to 18 to 21 to qualify for a handgun permit.
Following the Brooklyn shooting, Mayor Scott stood up a Coordinated Neighborhood Stabilization Response within the community, under the auspices of the Mayor’s Office of Neighborhood Safety and Engagement. This response focused on addressing trauma and stabilizing the neighborhood, in partnership with community-based organizations and City agencies.
Our federal partners also are working to make Baltimore safer, with a focus on reducing violent crime and the homicide rate, particularly gun crime. U.S. Attorney for the District of Maryland Erek Barron noted that overall homicides and non-fatal shootings in Baltimore are continuing to trend down significantly. While this is little consolation to the victims of the recent shootings and their families, as of the half year mark in 2023, homicides were down 22.2% and non-fatal shootings were down 12.6%.
In Congress, our Maryland delegation has worked to increase resources and investments to improve public safety in Baltimore and throughout the state. This has included direct resources to local governments, along with community organizations, colleges and universities. I have introduced bipartisan legislation to end cyclical violence and protect crime victims, and have sponsored legislation to boost federal assistance for state and local witness protection programs. And I continue to urge the U.S. Justice Department to provide additional resources to combat violent crime in Baltimore and throughout the state of Maryland.
It is important to understand that the horrific and seemingly endless incidents of gun violence are not limited to our state. Sadly, over this past holiday weekend, from Friday, June 30 through Tuesday, July 4, there were at least 538 shootings, in which 199 people were shot and killed, and 520 were shot and wounded, across a total of 43 states and the District of Columbia. This is a national problem that must be addressed at the federal level, in conjunction with state and local measures.
President Biden is correct that we have the power to make a change and end the cycle of violence caused by guns in our society. “… as we have seen over the last few days, much more must be done … across America to address the epidemic of gun violence that is tearing our communities apart,” he said Tuesday.
When I heard that half of the victims in the Brooklyn shooting were under 18, it brought back memories of last summer when a mass shooter in Ulvalde, Texas, killed 19 children and two teachers. Following that tragedy, Congress formed a bipartisan working group and within a month of the shooting passed the Bipartisan Safer Communities Act, which finally broke the decades-long gridlock on gun safety. It is already making a difference with increased funding for community violence intervention and prevention initiatives, including some underway in Baltimore. The new law strengthens protections for victims of domestic violence by adding convicted domestic violence abusers to background checks. It creates a new source of funding for states to implement “red flag” laws, which help to keep weapons out of the hands of dangerous individuals who should not have access to a firearm. It cracks down on criminals who try to evade licensing requirements and makes clear which gun sellers need to register, conduct background checks and keep appropriate records. It also strengthens the background check process for those under 21 seeking to buy firearms, by ensuring that officials have access to juvenile and mental health records.
Importantly, in July 2022 shortly after passing this historic gun safety legislation, the Senate – on a nearly party-line vote – finally confirmed Steve Dettelbach to be the Director of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives (ATF). The ATF has not had a permanent Senate-confirmed director since 2015 due in part to lobbying by the National Rifle Association to keep this position vacant. The agency now has a permanent leader in place who can carry out its critical mission to stem the illegal use and trafficking of firearms, among other important priorities.
There is no single solution to this deadly problem. We’ve got to attack this from all directions until our children and our neighbors stop being shot. In addition to battling the scourge of illegal weapons and the changing the mindset at the community level that has allowed guns to be a knee-jerk reaction to any disagreement, there are many commonsense measures ready for Congress to pass into law. These include:
- Renew the assault weapons ban
- Require background checks for all gun sales, including unlicensed sellers
- Eliminate the “Charleston loophole” that allows for a sale to go forward if a check is not completed within three days
- Ban the importation, sale, manufacture, transfer, or possession of magazines that hold more than 10 rounds of ammunition
- Raise the minimum age for assault weapon purchases from 18 to 21
- Require the Safe Storage of Guns
- End gun manufacturer’s immunity from liability
As a community and as a nation, we are not powerless to act. In fact, we have a responsibility to do something meaningful to save lives. Most Americans support commonsense gun safety actions. Saving lives is the right thing to do, and it should never be partisan. Gun violence affects both urban and rural communities, and daily gun violence affects both large and small communities, even when it doesn’t make headlines.
Thank you for your time on this important subject. Reducing gun violence and increasing the safety of our communities will continue as one of my top priorities.