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Senate panel considers creating a firearms violence prevention center

Myles Hicks, right, deputy legislative director, summarizes the Center for Firearm Violence Prevention and Intervention on behalf of the governor’s administration. Sitting next to Hicks is Health Department Secretary Laura Herrera Scott along with Karen Herren and Jen Pauliukonis. Photo by William J. Ford.

A few hours before the Maryland State House went on lockdown Thursday, after someone phoned in a threat to Annapolis police, the Senate Finance Committee held a hearing on legislation to create a Center for Firearm Violence Prevention and Intervention.

Senate Bill 475 is part of a package released in January by Gov. Wes Moore (D) and led by the legislature’s presiding officers.

The center, to be housed within the Maryland Department of Health, would focus on a data-driven public health approach to prevent gun violence and on collaboration between state and local government agencies, hospitals and community-based violence intervention programs.

“Our public health approach to violence prevention and intervention requires centering health as the main goal by addressing factors that will decrease injuries and death,” said Health Department Secretary Laura Herrera Scott.

Herrera Scott highlighted a few statistics to accentuate the administration’s concern about gun-related injuries and deaths.

In 2020, she said Marylanders between the ages of 25 to 34 suffered the most firearm-related injuries and deaths.

The following year, the state’s firearm injury death rate of 15.2 per 100,000 people ranked as the 22nd highest in the country.

“Research indicates that gun violence is not inevitable and can be prevented using public health measures including systemic data collection, examining shared risks and protected factors and using research-backed strategies,” Herrera Scott said. “This is the work that the center will address.”

The center would be modeled on the White House’s Office of Gun Violence Prevention established in September. Besides intervention programs, another goal of the center is to implement further legislative and executive actions to combat gun violence with initiatives such as requiring safe storage of firearms, strengthening background checks and banning assault weapons.

Rob Wilcox, deputy director of the White House’s Office of Gun Violence Prevention, said in January that Maryland became the first state in the nation to propose a statewide center.

The House Judiciary Committee held a hearing Feb. 14 on its version of the legislation, House Bill 583.

According to the fiscal note and analysis of the bill, the center would cost $10 million to establish with three employees — an executive director, an epidemiologist and a program manager. The positions would begin on the bill’s effective date, Oct. 1.

About $8.7 million would be designated for contractual services distributed this way:

  • $6.7 million to implement data-driven and evidence-based activities.
  • $1 million for state agency partners to provide technical assistance, coordination and collaboration to address “shared risk and protective factors.”
  • $1 million for infrastructure and information technology capacity that would include a data dashboard.

Another $1 million would be used to distribute grants to community-based organizations to implement firearm violence prevention activities and “academic partners” to provide expertise, research and other work.

Senate Minority Whip Justin Ready (R-Frederick and Carroll), who serves on the committee, asked what the center would do to impact individual choices of those who use guns illegally.

“This doesn’t impact individual choice, but really gets to the root cause of trauma in general and why people use guns, either for self-inflicted harm, or to crimes against other people,” Herrera Scott said. “Once you‘ve been exposed to some trauma, how do we then address communities and the people exposed to trauma so that they don’t either become victims, or go on to perpetrate gun violence.”

No one testified in person against the legislation, but Cathy Wright with the Maryland State Rifle and Pistol Association (MSRPA) wrote a letter asking the committee to oppose it.

“The bill is vaguely worded and insufficiently detailed for definitive interpretation,” said Wright, the association’s vice president of legislative affairs. “In addition, it creates a bureaucratic office with no legislative oversight or checks on its actions or authority. The members of the MSRPA are willing and able to contribute to the state’s efforts to identify meaningful ways to prevent violent crime and protect Maryland citizens. Why not invite the pro-Second Amendment community to participate?”


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Senate panel considers creating a firearms violence prevention center