Prince George’s County police Maj. Everett Sesker said last week he heard a mother speak out against gun violence in the county as she told her story about losing her son to a fatal shooting.
The incident was yet another reason the police department is in full support of establishing and maintaining a new registry unit that would place convicted gun offenders into a database for officers to review and keep tabs on their activity, Sesker said Tuesday during a public hearing before the Prince George’s County Council.
The County Council passed legislation to establish a gun offender registry for those convicted of gun-related offenses with a 9-0 vote Tuesday immediately following a public hearing held at the County Administration Building in Upper Marlboro.
“This bill is not about the criminals, it’s about the victims,” said Sesker, who Councilwoman Karen R. Toles (D-Dist. 7) of Suitland said was instrumental in developing the legislation. “This is a unique program that doesn’t violate anyone’s rights.”
Toles originally introduced the bill in April and said she was very pleased with the outcome of the hearing and final vote. The bill will now go to County Executive Rushern L. Baker, III (D) for him to sign and it will become county law 45 days later.
“We are putting the tools and procedures and laws into place to protect our citizens,” Toles said. “Our neighboring jurisdictions [Baltimore City and Washington, D.C.] have gun offender bills and they’ve been very useful to help deter those wanting to commit crimes.”
Baker said he is in full support of the legislation and plans to sign it into law.
“This legislation will be another tool for our police to use to make our streets safer,” he said. “The worst crimes that generally occur involve illegal guns. This bill helps us keep guns out of the hands of those individuals who have already been convicted of gun related crimes. This is a strong preemptive measure that can help stop crimes from happening before they occur.”
The registry bill calls upon the county police to maintain a database similar to the sex offender registry that would require convicted gun offenders to share background and contact information with police and check in with the department every six months for a three- to five-year period depending upon the conviction, Toles said.
If convicted of an additional gun offense while listed in the registry, separate sentences would be added onto the standard criminal sentencing for that offense, another way to deter felons from committing repeat offenses, Toles said.
Last year, county police recovered 977 guns from incidents and seizures coupled with 180 non-fatal shootings, according to police. So far this year, 523 weapons have been recovered and there have been 63 non-fatal shootings.
County police, the county state’s attorney’s office and the County Council all aided in the creating of the legislation, Toles said.
“It’s going to save lives. In District 3 alone there were 82 shootings in 2011,” said PGPD’s Maj. George Nader. “These individuals are committing crimes over and over again. This is the type of legislation that can keep us in contact with those individuals and lead them on the right path.”
About 10 residents and community stakeholders testified during the hearing.
College Park resident Sam Doyle said if the county’s goal is to reduce violence they should not limit a registry to gun-offenses and should incorporate all violent crimes such as stabbings. In 2010, there were 4,932 violent crimes of which 2,462 involved a weapon, according to police department records.
“I’m not here to promote the idea that we should have more guns, but we need to make this equally accountable to everybody,” said Doyle, a 50-year resident of the county. I’d like to see you inform people and keep them informed of what our gun laws are and the penalties and consequences. If we do that, I think we might save a life or two.”
Bob Ross, the president of the Prince George’s County chapter of the NAACP, said he did not support the council’s legislation because of the current state of the gun offender registry program implemented in Baltimore City, which Baltimore Circuit Court Judge Alfred Nance said April 6 was unconstitutional and too vague.
Toles said a resolution will be introduced to the council by next week that establishes the rules and procedures for operating the registry including who has access to it, what type of offenses qualifies an offender and other parameters that details its legitimacy and constitutionality.