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Balt. Mayor Wants Tougher Illegal Gun Punishment

BALTIMORE (WJZ) ―Baltimore's mayor wants Maryland to pull the trigger on tougher punishments for people caught with illegal guns.

Derek Valcourt
explains if the mayor has her way short prison stints for gun possession may get a lot longer.

Charles Mcganey was arrested in 2008 for possession of an illegal firearm. After a short jail sentence, he was back on the streets less than six weeks later when he and two other men shot and killed Baltimore City Councilman Ken Harris during an armed robbery.

Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake says that is a problem. Punishments for illegal gun possession aren't tough enough.

Right now a first-time gun offense is a misdemeanor, punishable by at least 30 days and up to three years in prison. In fact the average misdemeanor gun offender in the city spends only four months in jail.

"When people know that they can possess an illegal gun, a loaded illegal gun and serve four months in jail, that's not a deterrent," Rawlings-Blake said.  "We need serious time."

Her idea of serious time? A minimum of 18 months and up to 10 years in jail--legislation she hopes to get through Annapolis in the next session.

On average, city police confiscate about 3,000 illegal guns each year. So far in 2010 they've taken 1984 illegal guns off the streets, arresting 756 people for illegal gun possession.

In fact, police say 50 percent of people arrested for murders and shootings have prior gun convictions on their record. Past attempts at similar legislation failed to get by some lawmakers who oppose mandatory sentencing, but Rawlings-Blake says she's working on a grassroots effort to gain support.

"I have to think that by working with our community leaders from around the city we'll convince the legislature to increase the penalties so we can have a safer city," the mayor said.

A minimum of 18 months is still a far shot from the three-year minimum New Yorkers face if they get caught with an illegal weapon.

The mayor's legislation will likely face opposition again this year from lawmakers who also happen to be defense attorneys.

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