Baltimore County leaders push for better gun safety measures

Baltimore County Executive Kevin Kamenetz and Police Chief Jim Johnson called for state and federal action on gun safety measures at a press conference today.

Johnson is the Chair of the National Law Enforcement Partnership to Prevent Gun Violence, a national group of law enforcement experts that have developed specific proposals to curtail gun violence in the United States.

As part of the effort to move legislation forward, County Executive Kamenetz wrote a letter to state and federal officials today requesting that they take immediate action on the gun safety measures proposed by national law enforcement groups, and the County Executive made it clear that he was ready to advocate for these changes in communities all across Baltimore County.

The text of the County Executive's letter is below:

December 17, 2012

An Open Letter to Maryland's Federal and State Elected Officials

My wife cried last night, watching the news on TV. She cried the day before. And it has been three days now since we spent the entire afternoon with our eyes glued to the TV screen, just like we did on 9/11. But this time, I wanted to do something more.

You see, I write this letter not just as the County Executive of Maryland's third largest county, but also as the father of two young boys. Like the parents in Newtown, I send them to school each morning filled with hopes and dreams and with the belief that they will be safe and secure and arrive home every afternoon to share the ups and downs of their day with mom and dad. For many families in Connecticut, such a dream was shattered this past Friday.

Police Chief Jim Johnson and I talk a lot about gun safety. We talked even more after a fifteen year old Perry Hall boy shot a student on the first day of school, and the Stemmers Run boy brought in a weapon in the second week of school. I tended to blame the family members who allowed disturbed children to have access to weapons. And I tend to partially blame the Newtown tragedy on the killer's mother for allowing him access to weapons.

But then I realized, why does any person need access to assault weapons and high capacity magazines? These are weapons of war, not for personal use.

The Chief and I fully recognize that there are no easy answers as to why this tragic pattern is being repeated with more and more regularity across America. Some point to the need for more treatment for mental illness. Others cite violent images in the media and the increasing violence in video games. Many will talk about the need for families to reconnect at the dinner table. Indeed, we need to take a comprehensive look at all of these cultural issues, but it if we are to be courageous in responding to these repeated tragedies, we must take immediate action to pursue reasonable gun safety legislation in our state and in our nation. I am prepared to help you make this important case.

Let's make something clear right from the beginning. Such a discussion is not an assault on the second amendment. It is an assault on assault weapons. The founding fathers granted Americans the right to bear arms, but like other rights in the Constitution, that right is not absolute, and is subject to reasonable limits. Law abiding citizens who enjoy hunting, target shooting, or feel the need to have a gun to protect their families have nothing to fear from legislation that stops the sale of high capacity assault weapons.

The Newtown experience should bring about a new attitude about gun violence. I encourage our state and federal officials to take immediate action to accomplish three things:

• Stop allowing exceptions to national background checks
• Stop the sale of military-grade assault weapons that can out-gun our police officers
• Stop the sale of high capacity magazines of more than ten rounds

Chief Johnson is the Chair of the National Law Enforcement Partnership to Prevent Gun Violence. This coalition of law enforcement experts recommends strengthening of background checks, and a review of laws pertaining to assault rifles and high capacity weapons. I support their efforts.

And to all owners of firearms, know that in Baltimore County we will aggressively arrest and prosecute those who fail to properly secure their weapons in their own homes.

I have also requested a review of police security procedures for our Baltimore County Public Schools, and the Chief will be working with Superintendent Dance to make specific recommendations to me in the next few months.

The people of Baltimore County and the people all across the nation should not have access to the weapons of war. An assault rifle used to battle the Taliban has no place in Towson, Dundalk, or Catonsville. In our wildest dreams, it is impossible to imagine that the right to bear arms would mean that citizens could walk the streets with assault rifles issued to soldiers on the battlefield or weapons that utilize high capacity


This is not the time to be timid. This is the time for people of goodwill to come forward and be courageous. I am prepared to make this case with you all across Baltimore County. We cannot sit by and do nothing. The families of the more than 100,000 school children in Baltimore County deserve better. They have a right to know that their elected officials are prepared to say, "Enough is enough."

Very truly yours,

Kevin Kamenetz
Baltimore County Executive

cc: Baltimore County Police Chief James Johnson

Police Chief James Johnson's transcript on gun violence is below:

In addition to being Chief of Police in Baltimore County Maryland, I chair the National Law Enforcement Partnership to Prevent Gun Violence.

The Partnership is comprised of numerous groups like the International Association of Chiefs of Police, the Major Cities Chiefs, the Police Executive Research Forum, the International Association of Campus Law Enforcement Administrators, and many others.
The Newtown Incident and How to Prevent Other Tragedies

We, like the rest of the nation, are deeply troubled by the horrific shootings in Newtown, Connecticut.

Because we do not now know all the facts, I am not able to comment on the details of this case, but what I do know is we must do more to prevent tragedies like this, involving firearms, which are happening all too frequently across our nation.

Gun violence is a public health epidemic. It is impacting us all. Last year, for the first time in 14 years, guns were the leading cause of death for law enforcement officers killed in the line of duty. (70 of the 163 fallen officers were killed with firearms).

In 2011, the Police Executive Research Forum (PERF) conducted a study of six cities. This study revealed that the cost of violent crime in those six cities over a one-week period was in excess of $38 million.

It is time for our lawmakers to act. We need background checks for all gun purchasers. Right now federal law requires a check if you buy a gun from a licensed dealer. But 40 percent of gun sales are not made through gun dealers – they are private transactions which occur at gun shows, on the Internet, or through a classified ad - which means no check is required. That is like allowing 40 percent of airline travelers to go through airport security in a separate line that has no checks.

Maryland does require, under certain conditions, background checks for non-dealer sales. However, this can be bypassed by purchasing guns outside the State of Maryland, from states which do not require a background check.

Background checks work! They stopped 1,925,000 prohibited purchases from federally licensed dealers between 1994 – when the Brady Law took effect – and 2009, according to the Department of Justice's Bureau of Justice Statistics. Imagine the tragedies if those nearly two million sales were allowed to occur. And imagine all the tragedies that we can prevent if we apply background checks to the other 40 percent of sales.

The tragedy that occurred in Brookfield, Wisconsin, in October, for example, could have been prevented if we had a law in place requiring background checks for all purchasers. The purchaser was prohibited by law from possessing a gun but found an ad online and was able to buy the gun from an individual without any check or questions asked. It makes no sense!

A 2009 study conducted by the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives revealed that 30 percent of the guns recovered at crime scenes had been purchased across state lines. We need nationwide uniformity to stop prohibited purchasers from purchasing firearms.

We also need to limit high capacity ammunition magazines to no more than 10 rounds. There is no reason someone needs such things, except to fire multiple rounds in rapid succession and shoot lots of people without reloading. These are weapons that were originally designed for the battlefield.

High capacity magazines were used in the shooting of Congresswoman Gabrielle Gifford. Even in the State of Maryland, regulations allow for magazines that hold considerably more than ten rounds.

Enough is enough. Law enforcement is calling on our elected officials to do what is right and responsible. They must act. It is time. There are no excuses.

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