SEABROOK – After meeting with student activists from Parkland, Florida, Democratic gubernatorial nominee Ben Jealous reiterated his goal to treat the gun violence in Maryland as a public health crisis if elected for governor in the November general election.
Joined with local gun safety advocates, students from Baltimore County and members of the Great Mills High School community, the former National President & CEO of the NAACP became the first candidate for office to greet with the students-turned-activists during their 20-state summer-tour lobbying for the end of gun violence on Aug. 6.
“These young people stood up, and because they stood up, many politicians have stood up against the National Rifle Association (NRA)…and that is what we are going to need in order to end gun violence in our country,” Jealous said.
Jealous said he has spoken to law enforcement, community members, school officials about treating the topic differently than others. Most of his viewpoints on the issue stem from his visit back to the housing projects where his mother grew up in Baltimore. Jealous said he spoke to people who were around gun violence while growing up and how it affected them mentally.
While getting guns off the streets is a key to reducing crime, being able to treat those who have been predisposal to gun violence is needed to make sure people are not tempted to use guns to solve future problems while being able to continue living a normal life, Jealous said.
“There is a need for more mental health services in our schools and our communities,” Jealous said. “It’s just common sense especially when after every school shooting, we call it a mental health crisis in our schools but the NRA comes and says, ‘that’s why we need more guns in schools.’
“That is utterly one of the most dangerous types of insanity that I have seen in American politics. If we have a mental health crisis then we need more mental health providers, not more guns,” Jealous said.
The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) reported that there were 707 gun-related deaths in Maryland in 2017, a 29 percent increase from 2016’s totals. To combat the gun violence issue, state politicians worked together to pass a gun control bill that was signed by Governor Larry Hogan in April.
The comprehensive law would allow families and law enforcement to ask judges for a court order to limit a person’s access to weapons if they are deemed a risk to hurt themselves or others. The measure places a ban on bump stocks, required convicted domestic abusers to surrender their firearms and longer jail sentences for repeat offenders and criminals that break laws with a gun.
Hogan himself has changed his view since receiving an A-grade and endorsement by the NRA during the 2014 election. After passing the gun safety bill, Hogan confirmed through a spokesperson on July 21 that he will not accept campaign donations from the organization after speaking with Great Mill students that survived a March 20 campus shooting.
However, Jealous said that more needs to be done and socioeconomic status should not limit the help one can receive in dealing with gun violence. When elected, Jealous said he would add a position in the Maryland Department of Health to use “science-based solutions” to help create laws and help inform public health officials of new ways to fight gun violence.
Jealous also proposes a “both-end approach” where Maryland joins the States for Guns Safety, a group of several states police departments working together to stop the illegal movement of firearms, while providing people predisposed to gun violence access to mental health counselors to check on their well-being.
“We have a lot of work to do, and it is all very doable,” Jealous said. “It starts with recognizing that we have to say gun violence is a related mental health crisis. We are going to make our society strong and safer, but we have to follow our common sense and tackle both guns and the mental health crisis head-on.”
Locally, Corporal Jose Febles-Torres was recently honored by the Prince George’s County Police Department during its Chief Awards on July 25 for securing a $470,013 Project Safe Neighborhoods (PSN) Program grant from the Office of Justice Programs in 2017 to deal with gun violence in the county.
With the funds received, county police were able to proactively identify repeat offenders, prosecuting them on gun-related charges and going after illegal firearms suppliers. Chief of Police Hank Stawinski said Febles-Torres’ grant helped the drop of gun violence in the county “down almost a third” from last year.