Maryland has both strict gun laws and the title of the country’s “most dangerous city.” Are these gun laws working?
Maryland has some of the strictest gun control laws in the entire country. Not to be outdone, the City of Baltimore has also enacted a number of statutes limiting how and where people can possess or carry guns. For years, the city and state have adopted out most gun control ideas that were proposed.
This year, Baltimore was named the Most Dangerous City in America by USA Today for having the highest per capita murder rate. Gun violence and violent crime is so bad in Baltimore that, earlier this year, the city actually celebrated going 11 days without anyone being killed inside the city limits.
This proves an interesting paradox: the state with some of the country’s strictest gun laws is also home to the country’s most dangerous city. How is that possible? Like most policy debates, the answer depends on which side of the gun issue you fall on.
Maryland law requires a full license, including passing a comprehensive background check, just to own a handgun. To carry one in public, Marylanders need to prove to their local police chief that they have a “good and substantial reason” to carry a firearm in public for self-defense. The bar for proving this is set so high that it is practically impossible for the average Marylander to be approved for a carry permit.
None of that seems to have stopped criminals in Maryland from illegally acquiring, carrying, and yes, shooting people with guns.
Gun control advocates point to surrounding states’ lax gun laws for supplying Baltimore criminals with guns. They look at the fact that someone can purchase a handgun in Virginia or West Virginia without going through a lengthy permitting process and then traffic the guns into Maryland.
The data, on its face, supports that claim. Many crime guns do come from out of the state. But the majority of crime guns traced by the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF) come back as originating in Maryland. In 2015, the ATF traced 2,913 out of 5,498 Maryland crime guns that year to being first lawfully purchased in Maryland. The ATF was able to trace 1,212 crime guns to Virginia, West Virginia, or Pennsylvania.
With the exception of homemade guns, every commercially manufactured firearm can be traced to where it was first sold to a member of the public. It becomes harder to trace its path once it leaves the gun store, but the ATF can at least trace a gun’s first sale. Pointing to ease of access in other states doesn’t change the fact that Maryland’s strict pistol purchase requirements have not stopped Charm City criminals from sourcing most of their weapons in-state. And even if interstate trafficking ended, these statistics suggest that criminals would still have 53 percent of their guns and simply need to step up efforts to steal or straw-purchase guns in Maryland.
Baltimore also has some of the strictest laws on where you can carry a firearm, going far beyond Maryland’s already strict permitting scheme. Baltimore’s gun-free school zone law is so strict that even police officers aren’t technically allowed to carry guns inside of the city’s schools. Yes, you read that correctly. If, God forbid, there is a school shooting in Baltimore, it is technically illegal for armed officers to walk inside.
Obviously, in a case like that, officers would likely ignore the statute’s technicalities and rush inside anyway. But it speaks to just how strict the city’s gun laws are. Strict carry bans have not reduced Baltimore’s violent crime and homicide rates.
All of this begs the question: do these gun laws work? If they do, how is success quantified?
All criminals are, by definition, lawbreakers. To say that criminals ignore Maryland’s and Baltimore’s gun laws is not a suggestion that those laws are without purpose. We know that people will speed on the roadways, yet that doesn’t mean we should abandon using speed limit signs. There need to be some restrictions in place.
But how can a state with such strict gun laws — given an A-grade by the pro-gun control Law Center to Prevent Gun Violence — also be home to the most dangerous city in America?
Gun rights activists point to these laws’ effect on disarming citizens as a variable that contributes to violent crime rates. When criminals have no problem sourcing guns inside and out of the state, making it harder for the law-abiding to purchase firearms, and next to impossible for them to carry them in public, it gives the criminal element a perceived monopoly on the use of force. The saying floated by these gun rights supporters is that an “armed society is a polite society.”
But even that fails to address the issue. If we gave everyone in Baltimore a gun, it is doubtful that the city’s violent crime rate would drop. If anything, there would probably be more shootings (especially negligent discharges).
Taking either gun control or gun rights proposals to their extremes will not solve Baltimore’s violent crime epidemic. There has to be a balance that measures the need to keep people safe without only allowing the outlaws to be armed. The challenge is crafting that compromise.
In the wake of the Parkland, Florida, shooting, there has been a lot of talk in Annapolis of adding new gun restrictions in Maryland. But doing that without taking stock of whether existing laws are working would be doing constituents a disservice.