Baltimore's incoming mayor, Stephanie C. Rawlings-Blake, pressed Annapolis lawmakers to toughen state gun laws at a packed hearing Tuesday before the House Judiciary Committee, saying "we have to do more" to build on successes in reducing crime.
Rawlings-Blake, who will take the city's helm Thursday when Mayor Sheila Dixon steps down, spoke briefly to the committee. The delegates welcomed her warmly, at times calling her "mayor-elect" and "mayor."
The legislation she supports would broaden an offense known as "use of a handgun in commission of a crime." Police now frequently add it to other charges in violent gun crimes. However, the statute allows the charge only if a handgun is used; other firearms such as rifles and shotguns are not included.
"Why should someone who walks into a convenience store and robs it with a shotgun or a long gun be subject to less jail time then someone who robs that very same store with a handgun?" Rawlings-Blake asked. "Both crimes are egregious, and the penalties should be the same."
Committee members used the hearing to voice broader frustration with the criminal justice system, with Del. Michael D. Smigiel Sr. asking for information about the number of Baltimore gun offenders whom judges punish with maximum sentences.
Police Commissioner Frederick H. Bealefeld III tried to steer the focus back to the legislation, saying that 26 percent of the guns seized in Baltimore last year were long guns and warning delegates about getting lost "in the philosophical hoo-ha" of a broader gun control debate.