Regional Partnership to Increase Gun Stings, Inspections
By Candace Rondeaux and John WagnerWashington Post Staff Writers
Friday, July 27, 2007; 12:06 PM
Leading officials from Maryland, the District and Prince George's County announced a set of initiatives today aimed at cracking down on gun trafficking, tightening laws that govern firearms use and improving information-sharing among law enforcement agencies.
The regional partnership will focus on stepping up inspections at firearms shops, increasing the number of sting operations at gun shows and ensuring that people on parole or probation sign notices acknowledging that they are prohibited from owning firearms, authorities said.
"State and local law enforcement agencies all share the same mission, and it is critical that they also share information and resources," said Rick Abbruzzese, a spokesman for Maryland Gov. Martin O'Malley (D).
O'Malley, District Mayor Adrian M. Fenty (D), Prince George's County Executive Jack B. Johnson (D) and law enforcement officials outlined the initiatives at a news conference in the District this morning as they announced the formation of a task force. Abbruzzese and others discussed the collaborative effort in interviews yesterday.
Law enforcement authorities, particularly in Maryland, have struggled to reduce the number of gun sales involving "straw purchasers," people who buy firearms on behalf of felons and others who are legally barred from doing so.
In 2006, 135 guns used in crimes in Prince George's County were traced to one dealer, Realco in District Heights. That was more than three times as many guns as could be traced to any other dealer. In the District, 204 guns were traced to Realco last year, four times as many as were linked to the next biggest dealer.
Carlos Real, Realco's manager, declined to comment.
Although overall crime is down in Prince George's and the District, "we're seeing this level of violence and homicides, and we want to have an impact," said Terrence B. Sheridan, superintendent of the Maryland State Police. One advantage of the task force, Sheridan said, is having "people with different viewpoints and experiences come together and talk about what works and what doesn't."
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, firearm deaths in Maryland rose from 592 in 2001 to 644 in 2004, the most recent year for which statistics are available. After declining earlier in the decade, the number of firearms sold in Maryland has increased in recent years, from 23,663 in 2004 to more than 28,287 in 2006, according to the Maryland State Police.
Gun crimes are a persistent problem in the District and in Prince George's, where the number of homicides has risen steadily this year. In both jurisdictions, the vast majority of the slayings involved guns, some of which were illegally purchased.
There have been 78 homicides in Prince George's to date, a nearly 15 percent increase over the same period last year. In the District, police have reported 104 homicides, a 5 percent increase over the same period last year.
"A lot of guns that are sold in the region end up in others' back yards, and we have to deal with the aftermath of violent crime," said Vernon Herron, director of public safety in Prince George's. "We have to stop that, and we have to work together to prevent these guns from getting into the wrong hands."
Kristen M. Mahoney, executive director of the Governor's Office of Crime Control and Prevention in Maryland, said the state has earned a grade of A- for the quality of its gun laws from the Brady Center to Prevent Gun Violence. But a lack of enforcement of those laws has led to some disturbing trends in recent years, she said.
A Handgun Roster Board that was established in Maryland in the 1980s is tasked with approving the types of handguns that can be sold in the state. One seat on the board is reserved for a member of CeaseFire, an anti-handgun group.
But during the previous administration, the seat went unfilled while slots reserved for representatives of the National Rifle Association and gun dealers were filled, Mahoney said. The task force plans to review decisions made by the board during the past five years.