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Amended gun bill passes judiciary committee

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Posted at 10:50 AM, Jul 25, 2017
and last updated 2017-07-25 19:04:03-04

A controversial Baltimore gun bill that would force those convicted of possessing an illegal handgun in the city passed through council judiciary committee on Tuesday. 

Still, there's concern from people in the city about the bill and how it will be enforced.

The City Council judiciary committee voted 5-2 to pass the amended version of gun bill. 

The amendment exempts first-time offenders unless they are committing other crimes too. The bill will now go to a second reading, scheduled for Aug. 14.

About two and a half hours into the hearing a scuffle broke out between frustrated citizens and police about the process in which the public was given an opportunity to testify before council. 

Two men, a 27-year-old and a 29-year-old, were arrested and charged. 

RELATED: Hearing on city gun bill expected to draw crowd

The scuffle broke out minutes after Police Commissioner Kevin Davis spoke in favor of the bill. 

"Our problem continues to be those who are illegally possessing handguns and all to often face no consequences for their actions," Davis said. 

The commissioner's points were faced with harsh criticism from several commissioners including Councilman Brandon Scott. 

"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," Scott said regarding the bill's enforcement around schools, churches, and other public places.

"Bottom line is, it's not ok to carry an illegal firearm in Baltimore city. Period," Councilman Eric Costello said.

Once the public had an opportunity to speak in the hearing, countless of those both for and against the bill professed to council about the impact it could have on the city.

"This bill stinks and anybody who votes for this bill is voting against Baltimore citizenry," J.C. Faulk, a resident against the bill, said. 

Some of the people concerned with the bill said they were worried if police would target minorities in cracking down on illegal handguns. 

Others want peace -- fast. 

"60% of those found guilty receive a majority of their sentence suspended by the judges. Why, they, tell me why? It's sad. The offenders do not view the possession of illegal guns as a serious crime with serious consequences," Inez Rahb, a resident for the bill, said. 

Mayor Catherine Pugh introduced the bill that would impose a one-year sentence for illegally possessing a gun within 300 feet of a school, park, public building or church.  State law already provides a minimum one-year term on a second offense. The council bill imposes a $1,000 fine.

Lawmakers watered down the original proposal, which would have mandated a minimum one-year jail term for carrying illegal handguns.