|Mayors to talk about guns|
Illegal weapons focus of summit
By John Fritze | Sun reporter
February 13, 2008
Mayors from as many as a dozen cities, including New York City Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg, will visit Baltimore today to discuss ways that cities can reduce crime by fighting the illegal gun trade.
Combating illegal guns and arresting those who use them has become a defining theme of Mayor Sheila Dixon 's administration in recent months, and the summit of city leaders, which will take place at City Hall, could solidify her credentials on the issue.
Baltimore leaders are not expected to announce any major shift in policy today, but Dixon's administration already has been active on the issue. It created a gun registry to track offenders and a task force to coordinate the enforcement of gun laws.
"What we know right now is that, given the level and the kind of violence in the city, that addressing the illegal gun trade is critical to stemming the violence," said Dixon spokesman Sterling Clifford.
Maryland State Police will announce at the summit that the agency confiscated more than 60 guns over the weekend from the home of a Cecil County man who officials said was selling weapons even though he was not a licensed dealer in Maryland. State police charged Elkton resident Phillip R. Norman, 63, with illegal possession of a handgun and other gun violations.
Officials said Norman was arrested after state police witnessed him complete a sale at a gun fair in Timonium over the weekend. State police - part of a gun task force the city helped create last year - later raided the man's home and found 18 handguns and 47 shotguns, authorities said.
Since its inception in May, the task force has seized 323 guns and made 40 arrests, Clifford said.
City officials said that, in addition to Bloomberg, Washington Mayor Adrian M. Fenty and Trenton, N.J., Mayor Douglas H. Palmer will attend. All of them, including Dixon, are members of the Mayors Against Illegal Guns Coalition, a group founded by Bloomberg and Boston Mayor Thomas M. Menino.
Dixon traveled to New York in September to meet with Bloomberg, in part to discuss a federal lawsuit filed by New York in 2006 against more than two dozen gun dealers. That lawsuit is pending.
"The mayor believes that it is mayors that deal with the real cost of gun violence, different from other kinds of elected officials, and that's why he and 156 other mayors started this group," said Bloomberg spokesman Jason Post.
The effort by cities has gained the attention of some national gun-rights advocates. And questions about how far cities may legislate on the issue were raised last year when a federal appeals court found unconstitutional a Washington, D.C., law that banned the registration of handguns.
Fenty's administration has appealed the ruling to the U.S. Supreme Court.
Baltimore was the second city in the country after New York to enact a gun registry program. The new law requires gun offenders to register their address and other information with police. Police then use the data to identify suspects.
The Baltimore City Council, meanwhile, is considering legislation that would require gun owners whose guns are stolen to report the theft within 48 hours. Residents who fail to do so could be charged with a misdemeanor and a $250 fine.
City Councilman James B. Kraft, the lead sponsor on that bill and a champion of the issue in the council, said the renewed interest in illegal guns in Baltimore was the result of efforts by Dixon and police Commissioner Frederick H. Bealefeld III.
Baltimore has experienced a significant reduction in homicides and shootings during the past several months.