In the Media: Md. Gun Control & Watch List Legislation; MCVET, Facility for Homeless Veterans
A digest of Baltimore news from local sources.
From the Washington Post: Maryland is one of the states where a watch-list gun ban failed
"Maryland is one of at least three states where gun-control advocates recently failed to push through legislation to bar people on terrorism watch lists from purchasing weapons — a safeguard that is drawing new attention in the wake of June 12’s mass shooting in Orlando.
"The watch-list measure never made it out of committee during the 2016 legislative session in Annapolis. It died amid pressure from the National Rifle Association, confusion about how the state could access a federal government watch list, and concerns from conservatives and progressives about people who may be on the watch list in error.
"But Maryland House Speaker Michael E. Busch (D-Anne Arundel) said Friday that reviving that measure and other gun-control bills will be a priority next year, especially since the Orlando gunman spent time on the FBI watch list. Busch said legislative leaders will hold briefings this fall to work through some of the concerns raised during this year’s session.
“'I think the incidents that have taken place in Orlando will create momentum and understanding of the need for legislation that would identify people that have problems and that are likely to commit these kinds of crimes,' Busch said. 'We want to put every precaution out there to prevent those kinds of incidents from happening here.'
"Gun-control bills have also stalled in Congress, although Democrats and Republicans last week proposed at least four measures, including competing watch-list proposals. A plan by Senate Majority Whip John Cornyn (R-Tex.) would require authorities to prove probable cause for denying a gun purchase within three business days of an attempted sale.
"Maryland’s watch-list bill was one of three that failed this year in the state’s majority-Democratic legislature, despite support from Busch and Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller Jr. (D-Calvert).
"The other bills would have prohibited firearms on public college campuses and required domestic abusers and felons to prove that they have surrendered their weapons to police or a registered firearms dealer within days of a conviction.
"The NRA sent representatives to testify against the watch-list measure, arguing that the rolls are flawed and that the government hasn’t developed a fair process for suspects to challenge the designation — potentially allowing authorities to remove a person’s Second Amendment rights without due process.
"The American Civil Liberties Union, which has defended the government’s right to regulate firearms but also has sued the government over the watch lists, said authorities use 'vague, overbroad, and often secret standards and evidence' to place individuals on the lists."
From the Washington Post: Democratic congressional delegation for Md. lines up behind Van Hollen’s gun bill
"All but one of the Democrats from Maryland’s congressional delegation recently agreed to co-sponsor a year-old firearms bill from Rep. Chris Van Hollen (D-Md.) that would create federal financial incentives to help states set up handgun-licensing programs.
"Three of those lawmakers said they would support the legislation after last week’s mass shooting in Orlando that killed 49 people at a gay nightclub.
"Additionally, the Democratic candidates for Maryland’s two open congressional seats, former lieutenant governor Anthony G. Brown and Del. Jamie B. Raskin (Montgomery), have said they will back the licensing bill if they win in November. They face Republicans Dan Cox and George McDermott, respectively, in the general election.
"Democratic Rep. Donna F. Edwards, who will not be in Congress next year after she lost a bitter Senate primary race to Van Hollen, has not co-sponsored the bill.
“'There is momentum building in this country,' Van Hollen said of the push for stricter gun laws. 'The question is: When will that momentum break through the wall of the NRA on Capitol Hill? There were already some cracks, and the slaughter in Orlando made those cracks even bigger.'
"Van Hollen, a candidate for the U.S. Senate, introduced the legislation last year, but it has stalled at the committee level.
"Advocates say that licensing laws help reduce firearm homicides. They point to a Johns Hopkins Center for Gun Policy and Research study that found gun-related homicides in Connecticut dropped by 40 percent over 10 years after the state adopted a licensing law in 1995, whereas such homicides in Missouri increased by 25 percent after the state repealed a similar statute in 2007.
"But gun rights advocates have argued that permit-to-purchase laws restrict the constitutional rights of peaceable Americans to bear arms but do not block criminals from obtaining firearms through illicit means such as theft, straw purchases or the black market."
From the Baltimore Sun: At Baltimore rehab center, discipline seen as key to ending veteran homelessness
"Two months ago, Richard Newman was living in whatever abandoned house or car he could find in a crime-ridden Baltimore neighborhood he calls 'the devil's playground.'
"A former nuclear weapons specialist for the Army, Newman, 44, once owned a $300,000 home in the suburbs and a comfortable lifestyle. But heroin addiction had taken it all away.
"'I was existing day-to-day in this almost animalistic way, just fighting to stay alive in the streets,' the Baltimore native says.
"Newman, who served at a missile site in the 1990s, now lives in a barracks-like room, attends daily life-skills classes and meets regularly with men and women traveling the same road, whether it's at nightly Narcotics Anonymous meetings or on occasional outings such as, a week ago, an Orioles game at Camden Yards.
"He's one of the newer residents at the Maryland Center for Veterans Education & Training in Baltimore, a nonprofit facility for homeless veterans known as MCVET.
"And he's glad for the 'safe haven' and the rare opportunity it offers to develop long-term plans.
"The problem of veteran homelessness in Baltimore, and in the United States in general, is substantial by any measure.
"Exact figures are hard to come by, but the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development has estimated that more than 45,000 veterans are homeless on any given night. They make up about 11 percent of the total adult homeless population.
"Veterans are as vulnerable as any group to the factors that contribute to homelessness: shortages of affordable health care and housing, the scarcity of good-paying jobs.
"But they can also face special challenges in this area, says Vidia Dhanraj, the director of homeless services for the Baltimore mayor's office.
"The prevalence among veterans of substance abuse, post-traumatic stress disorder and other mental illnesses, and inadequate social and family support worsens the problem, Dhanraj says.
"The crisis is severe enough that in 2014, the Obama administration introduced the Mayors Challenge to End Veteran Homelessness, a nationwide initiative that challenged the mayors of major cities including Baltimore to work with government and nonprofit agencies to end veteran homelessness by the end of 2015.
"It didn't reach the goal. As of last January, Baltimore's homeless population measured more than 2,700, including about 330 veterans.While 45 veterans per month were finding permanent housing, 40 more were becoming homeless.
"On the positive side, Dhanraj says, the program helped improve communication among agencies, and boosted their capacity to identify and track the homeless.
"Jeffery Kendrick, the Air Force veteran who serves as MCVET's executive director, says numbers don't tell the whole story.
"The Department of Housing and Urban Development, which oversaw the challenge, advocates a 'housing-first' strategy — that is, its first priority is to get homeless veterans into permanent housing, whatever their condition.
"MCVET, Kendrick says, has always believed in the opposite approach: first, analyze and treat whatever conditions underlie a veteran's homelessness; then require the veteran — or 'student' — to progress through several major phases, demonstrating commitment and increasing personal responsibility at each stage.
"During the final phase — known as 'SRO,' for 'single-room occupancy' — about 70 of the roughly 200 residents live in private apartments while commuting to jobs they've obtained through MCVET'S robust employment program."