Lawmakers are taking aim at an oversight in state law that advocates for domestic violence victims say may be enabling convicted abusers to keep their guns.
State Sen. Jamie Raskin (D-Takoma Park) and Del. Will Smith (D-Silver Spring) introduced legislation in the General Assembly Wednesday that would force judges to inform offenders at the time of conviction about the existing state law that forbids them from owning firearms if convicted of a felony or certain domestic violence crimes.
The law would also require offenders to surrender their firearms to a federally licensed gun dealer or police within 48 hours of being convicted or submit written proof they had done so to the court within five business days. Current law disqualifies individuals convicted of a violent crime or felony, among other circumstances, from possessing a gun. Offenders who violate the law face up to 15 years in prison.
The legislation comes on the heels of a Court Watch Montgomery study, released in November, that found only one of 126 offenders who were convicted of crimes that disqualified them from owning guns was told by a Montgomery County judge that he would have to surrender any firearm he may own. Volunteers from Court Watch Montgomery, an organization that reviews court cases to advocate for victims of domestic violence, sat in on 654 criminal domestic violence cases in county district courts to create the study.
“We monitored over 500 domestic violence criminal hearings and we were shocked that guns were never mentioned even though these were dangerous criminals convicted of violent crimes,” Laurie Duker, co-founder and executive director of Court Watch Montgomery, said. “It’s great that Maryland law says these offenders can’t have guns, but the law doesn’t give them a time period to turn in their guns and doesn’t require them to present any proof to police they have turned in their guns.”
Duker said the bill was written to fix that oversight.
“I think we’ll get more guns out of the hands of criminals and it respects the Second Amendment rights of law-abiding citizens,” Duker said.
Smith said he became involved in issues surrounding domestic violence when he served as chair of the Victim’s Services Advisory Board for Montgomery County
“A lot of violent crimes of this nature happen in a very short period of time after conviction because emotions are running hot,” Smith said Friday. “Getting guns out of the house is paramount.”
He said this bill would help law enforcement track whether convicted offenders had surrendered their guns. He said the law could also help offenders stay out of additional trouble with the law, since violating the current law could result in significant jail time.
“This is important information for offenders as well,” Smith said.
The delegate added that he’s optimistic about the bill passing the General Assembly this year because it has a broad coalition of support from victims’ advocacy groups.
Court Watch Montgomery this month also released a different study examining news reports from 2000 through 2015, which found that 60 county residents were killed in domestic violence incidents during that time period. Thirty-five of those deaths involved guns, according to the study.
“In numerous deaths there was a clear and escalating pattern of violence, criminal charges and, in some cases, incarceration,” Duker, the report’s author, wrote.