Mayor, police commissioner to lobby for stricter gun laws

… Gun crimes have fallen, mayor says, but laws need to be strengthened …

By Jessica Anderson, The Baltimore Sun

11:48 PM EST, January 28, 2011

Standing over a table of handguns similar to those recently seized by police, Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake urged Baltimore residents Friday to help her lobby to increase jail time for those caught with illegal guns.

“We all know we need to do more,” Rawlings-Blake said, as she called for state legislators to change current laws, which “support our culture of tolerance.”

The city has seen a drop in gun crime in recent years. Last year ended with 223 homicides — the lowest number since the late 1980s, just before the rise in crack cocaine use contributed to a spike in crime rates across the country. Through December, nonfatal shootings had fallen nearly 40 percent since 2007.

But Rawlings-Blake, who was joined by Police Commissioner Frederick H. Bealefeld III, said to continue the progress, tougher gun laws are needed since 82 percent of all jail time imposed by the city’s courts is suspended. Forty-four percent of the suspects in killings in 2010 had a previous gun arrest.

At the news conference, police had a Tech-9 and other handguns similar to three seized late Thursday afternoon from Michael Nichols, 32.

Bealefeld said Nichols was on probation for a previous handgun violation and has “a lengthy criminal record,” which includes a string of felony convictions for assault, drug possession and distribution and illegal possession of firearms. He was sentenced to five years in prison in 2007 on a gun conviction and is on probation from an assault conviction, also in 2007, according to electronic court records.

A witness called police and reported seeing Nichols carrying a weapon, police said. Charging documents say police chased Nichols as he tried to flee and also found a bag of suspected marijuana.

Nichols, of the 1600 block of Bentalou St., later told police he was keeping the TEC-9 “hidden in his mother’s basement in a tool box,” the documents said.

The commissioner also thanked the person who called police and urged others to do the same if they witness anything suspicious.

“We will respond,” he said. “We will arrest them. And we will get the guns out of your community.”

City officials have pushed repeatedly for tougher laws in Annapolis. An effort in 2009 to curtail “good-time credits” for people serving time for illegal guns stalled in the state Senate.

Copyright © 2011, The Baltimore Sun

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