ANNAPOLIS (March 30, 2021)—Maryland legislators have introduced a bill that would expand prohibitions and penalties in an effort to prevent an unsupervised minor from accessing a firearm.
HB0200 and its cross-file, SB0479, with sponsors Del. Dana Stein, D-Baltimore County, Del. J. Sandy Bartlett, D-Anne Arundel and Sen. William C. Smith Jr., D-Montgomery, is titled Jaelynn's Law.
Gun violence has been brought to the forefront of the national conversation once again after the recent mass shootings in Atlanta and Boulder, Colorado.
The bill is named after 16-year-old Jaelynn Rose Willey, who was killed in a shooting at Great Mills High School in St. Mary's County in 2018.
Willey was killed by a fellow student, 17-year-old Austin Rollins, who brought his father's gun to school.
"I'm here to tell you that it is essential that we pass Jaelynn's Law to prevent my personal tragedy from happening again and to protect your children in our communities," Melissa Willey, Jaelynn's mom, said at a March 1 House Judiciary Committee Hearing.
However, after initial hearings in the House Judiciary Committee and Senate Judicial Proceedings Committee, the bill has stalled as neither committee has scheduled a voting session.
The committee chairs haven't commented on why the bill has stalled.
Both the House Judiciary Committee and Senate Judicial Proceedings Committee have been flooded with police reform bills, which has been a heavy focus throughout this legislative session.
"We're not ready to give up on this yet, our understanding is that police reform has sucked all of the oxygen out of the room," Karen Herren, director of legislative affairs for Marylanders to Prevent Gun Violence, told Capital News Service.
Last session, a similar bill, SB646, passed the Senate with amendments and was referred to the House Judiciary Committee and didn't progress from there.
The 2020 General Assembly concluded weeks early due to the impending coronavirus pandemic.
This is the fourth time Stein has proposed legislation that would restrict a minor's access to a firearm, dating all the back to 2013, when he introduced a bill after a mass shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut.
Although the crossover deadline already passed the bill could still move forward.
It would need to go to the opposite chamber's Rules Committee and if it's voted out, the bill would then proceed to a judiciary committee followed up by a full vote on either the House or Senate floor.
"I still have optimism because it's like a game of chess sometimes, but it's hard when you're working on a bill that could save lives," Bartlett told Capital News Service.
Maryland law currently prohibits a person from leaving or storing a loaded firearm in a location where they knew or should have known that an unsupervised child under the age of 16 would gain access to it, according to a state legislative analysis.
Violators are subject to a misdemeanor and a maximum fine of $1000.
However, this piece of legislation would repeal that prohibition extending the policy to anyone under the age of 18.
"It's a duty that we have to make sure our kids are safe," Bartlett told Capital News Service.
It also would increase the punishment to a misdemeanor with a maximum sentence up to 90 days in prison and or a maximum fine of $1,000, according to a state legislative analysis.
The bill also establishes additional sanctions depending on whether the minor successfully gains access to the firearm.
In that case, the violator would be guilty of a misdemeanor punishable by a prison sentence of up to two years or a maximum fine of $2,500.
In the event that someone younger than 18 gains access to a firearm and inflicts damage on themselves or someone else, the prison sentence increases up to three years and a maximum fine of $5,000.
"Firearms are the leading cause of death among children and teens in Maryland and most of these guns come from their own homes, the homes of friends or of relatives," Stein said at the hearing.
However, these prohibitions don't apply if an individual over 18 supervises the access to the firearm or the firearm was obtained by unlawful entry.
They also don't apply if the firearm is in possession of a law enforcement officer while they're engaged in official duties or the minor has a certificate of firearm and hunter safety, according to a state legislative analysis.
Proponents of the bill also explained that while it aims to minimize the number of school shootings, an added benefit is decreasing the potential risk for accidental shootings.
On Feb. 15, 16-year-old Ervin Talley was fatally shot in Baltimore as his friend 17-year-old Tresean Parker was charged with involuntary manslaughter and possession of a firearm by a minor.
The weapon involved in the incident was owned by McGregory Parker, Tresean's father, according to the Baltimore Sun.
On Christmas, 17-year-old Edwin Roberto Rivera Juarez was killed in Indian Head, Maryland, after he was shot in a home where a 13-year-old accidentally discharged a firearm, according to the Washington Post.
Beyond school and accident shootings, the bill also addresses youth suicides, which has become an area of increased concern nationally.
As a result of the pandemic, many adolescents have become socially isolated, unable to interact with their peers in or outside of school.
In 2020, suicide was the third-leading cause of death for ages 10-34 in Maryland, according to the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention.
"It's a critical portion of the bill, it could be the area of the bill that has the most impact," Herren told Capital News Service.
Advocates of the bill explained that these tighter restrictions on gun storage would decrease the likelihood the minor could access a gun and also provide them with more time to seek help.
"Anytime we put a barrier that can be put in place to put a pause on an impulsive act, we give that person a moment to be able to get help and redirect that impulsive act," Herren told Capital News Service.
"I'm still hopeful that the bill will move forward," Stein told Capital News Service.