Arundels legislators driving Project Exile

Comment

February 13, 2000

Project Exile is a gun-control strategy that attacks the demand for guns. Its unlike gun-control proposals which seek to reduce the massive supply of weapons on urban and suburban streets.

If Project Exile becomes Maryland law, two Anne Arundel County legislators from District 31 will be able to take much of the credit.

Del. Joan Cadden and Sen. Philip C. Jimeno, Democrats who represent northeastern Arundel, are chief sponsors of Marylands Project Exile legislation in their respective chambers.

In Richmond, Va., Project Exile and tougher state laws have dramatically reduced homicide rates. The program says that anyone convicted of carrying an illegal gun draws a sentence of at least five years in prison.

Its mandatory, even for the ex-convict who was recently caught urinating in public while carrying a gun. His act of armed urination earned him five years behind bars.

An advertising blitz -- billboards and signs covering the sides of buses -- publicizes the law in Richmond. And the message has reached its target.

Just about everyone in Richmond knows the consequences of carrying weapons illegally, so fewer people are packing these days.

Project Exile is a gun-control strategy that attacks the demand for guns. Its unlike gun-control proposals which seek to reduce the massive supply of weapons on urban and suburban streets.

But theres no need to debate smart guns, background checks, waiting periods, gun show sales and lawsuits against gun manufacturers here. Senator Jimeno and Delegate Cadden have found broad support for duplicating Project Exile in Maryland.

Thirty-two of the states 47 senators have signed onto Mr. Jimenos Senate bill since he sent his colleagues a packet last year explaining the legislation. Thats a veto-proof majority. Sixty-seven of the 141 delegates are co-sponsoring Ms. Caddens House bill, and four more have lined up to back it, she said Thursday.

This is a middle ground we can all support, said Mr. Jimeno, who says he usually frowns on gun-control measures because he thinks theyre ineffective. We can debate these other issues outside the box but (Project Exile) is something we all can agree on.

He said he heard about this new approach about a year ago when he met with Ms. Cadden and her brother-in-law, who is active in gun control issues. He and Ms. Cadden wrote letters to Gov. Parris N. Glendening and Lt. Gov. Kathleen Kennedy Townsend to make sure they were aware of Richmonds success story.

The murder rate in Virginias capital city dropped 65 percent in one year.

I was impressed because Project Exile had the support of the National Rifle Association and gun-control organizations, Mr. Jimeno said. It also had strong support from the business community in Richmond, which bought into it. Businesses have spent large sums to buy billboards and bus ads, publicizing the mandatory prison sentences that people face when they use guns to commit crimes.

Ms. Cadden said the identical House and Senate bills were drafted in August to make them exactly -- almost -- like Virginias.

She gained the support of House Majority Whip George Owings III, who represents parts of Anne Arundel and Calvert counties, and House Speaker Casper R. Taylor Jr. She believes she could have gained the support of 100 delegates, but she did zero lobbying after sending packets and asking for support. Many have said yes, not one has said no.

Ms. Cadden senses a tide of momentum that has reached Baltimores City Hall.

This is a zero-tolerance issue to guns, she said. Mayor (Martin) OMalley has had a murder a day on the streets of Baltimore. What we have now isnt working.

Maryland has some tough laws in place, and the Maryland U.S. Attorneys Offices Project DISARM has sentenced ex-convicts to long prison terms for carrying guns. But the message isnt getting out.

This legislation, if well-publicized, could make that happen. Baltimore needs something dramatic to end the cycle of 300 homicides annually for a decade.

Criminals can get guns too easily, and apparently the consequences arent enough to deter them. Studies have shown that murderers usually have a long criminal history. Something must be done make career criminals afraid to carry guns.

Also, legislators must make sure that courts and states attorneys offices have the resources needed to make a Project Exile program work. If this program is instituted in state courts, more cases are certain to go to trial. That will create a need for more prosecutors, more courtroom time, more juries.

Project Exile could be an important first step to making communities safer and more livable. Mr. Jimeno and Ms. Cadden deserve credit for importing this idea to the Maryland General Assembly. Passage of the bill wont guarantee the programs success.

Without something drastic, we have guaranteed failure.

Norris West writes editorials for The Sun from Anne Arundel County.

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