Controversial city gun bill advances, dividing community, City Council

Posted at 10:23 PM, Jul 25, 2017
and last updated 2017-07-25 23:16:37-04

It was a busy day at City Hall as the public spoke out about the city's proposed one-year sentence for gun offenders.  

The debate got heated and two people were arrested during public comment, but the council was able to move forward an amended bill, with a 5-2 vote Tuesday afternoon.  

RELATED: Two people arrested at City Hall during gun bill hearing

But the controversial legislation its still being heavily debated.

"We don't hold accountable those who illegally possess a gun. They more often than not will illegally possess a gun again.  And when they illegally possess a gun again, they're shooting and killing other people or they're being shot themselves," said Baltimore Police Commissioner Kevin Davis.

The proposed city ordinance would have imposed a mandatory one-year jail sentence for illegal gun possession, with no suspended sentences allowed. The proposal left the community and the city council divided. 

"Mandatory lockup is not the thing because you're putting them away but what are you doing when it's time for them to come home if they do come home," said Baltimore resident, Vanessa Simms.

See also: Amended gun bill passes judiciary committee

"These places only exist in abundance in certain neighborhoods in the city and typically they're in neighborhoods of people who look like me. We know that they have no choice, but to enforce it that way and that's another reason why this bill is very bad," said Councilman Brandon Scott.

After debate, committee members voted 5-2 to advance the bill with amendments. Chief among them was language to weaken the bill against first-time offenders or those caught with an illegal gun in the commission of a crime. Mandatory prison minimums will instead be enforced on second-time offenders. 

Councilman Eric Costello was especially vocal saying, "It's not exactly what I wanted but that's the legislative process and that's what we needed to do to reach a compromise."

Going forward, the State's Attorney's Office will still retain the discretion to bring the minimum charge or to impose other charges.

The second reading of the gun bill is scheduled for Aug. 14. More amendments could be added as the bill moves forward.