Maryland’s Failure to Connect Stalking with Gun Violence
By Ivey Noojin | Mar 22, 2019
Although Maryland boasts having some of the toughest gun control laws in the country, the state is missing a critical loophole in its approach to public safety: stalking. Maryland is the only state that rules this crime a misdemeanor, which means stalkers can still buy a gun after conviction. And the state has intimate knowledge of this fact.
In July 2018, five people were murdered by a convicted stalker at the Capital Gazette newsroom in Annapolis. The perpetrator had pled guilty to criminal harassment of a former high school classmate in 2015 and attacked the newspaper because of its coverage of his sentencing. Five people paid the price because of one man’s anger toward women.
Maryland Democrats have since aimed to close this loophole. In January, Senators Susan Lee and Sarah Elfreth of Montgomery and Annapolis, respectively, introduced a bill that would prohibit stalkers from owning firearms. Since then the bill has gained 10 cosponsors, and legislators conducted a hearing on it in the House on March 21.
While the measure is a step in the right direction, it’s still not getting to the root of the problem. The true problem is that stalking is not considered enough of a threat.
According to a report by the Center for American Progress, stalking remains dangerous and prominent—even in states with harsher penalties. Around one in six women and one in 19 men have experienced stalking in their lifetime. Eighty-one percent of women who are being stalked by a former or intimate partner have been physically abused before. Seventy-six percent of murdered women were stalked the year before with a majority of stalkers being a former intimate partner. Escalation of violence is a clear pattern in stalking cases, and allowing stalkers to purchase guns is killing people.
In response, nine states have prohibited people convicted of misdemeanor stalking charges from purchasing a gun. But Maryland is not on that list. Instead, the Old Line State has focused on passing other legislation in regards to gun control, including: a red flag provision that allows family members and law enforcement to temporarily confiscate firearms; a ban on the sale and possession of bump stocks; and a requirement of domestic violence convicts to surrender their guns.
Maryland can begin to rectify this loophole in its gun restriction laws by passing the bill by Senators Lee and Elfreth. However, to truly address the problem, the state needs to look at diversifying the definition of stalking to include felony charges. Only then will there be less violent attacks like the one in the Capital Gazette newsroom.