Guns have played a key role in a surge in violent crime the past two years in Montgomery County, Police Chief Marcus Jones said Monday.

This year, out of 30 homicides recorded through Nov. 30 in the county, 20 involved a handgun, Jones told the County Council’s Public Safety Committee.

These included incidents in Silver Spring on Oct. 3, in which more than 50 shots were fired, and Oct. 16, after which 45 shell casings were recovered.

“In my 36-year career, I have never seen the amount of guns and gun activity that is currently on our streets here in Montgomery County, here in a year,” Jones said.

Additionally, according to a council staff report, the number of firearms recovered by county police increased 43% from 2020 to 2021 (652 to 932).

The number of “ghost guns” — privately made, without serial numbers — that police have seized has also jumped in the last two years, from 8 in 2019, to 38 in 2020, to 53 so far this year.

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Council Member Gabe Albornoz said the number of guns used in crimes across the county has risen to “incomprehensible levels” even though Maryland has stronger gun laws than other states.

“This proliferation of weapons that are out on the street obviously is a huge cause for concern,” he said.

When Albornoz asked Jones how successful police have been in recovering guns, the chief said police have recovered 46 illegally possessed guns from traffic stops. Police have also recovered guns from search warrants and at crime scenes, among other places, he said.

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When Albornoz asked what is behind the rise in gun violence, Jones said people can buy a gun in one state where the laws are less restrictive and cross the border into another state.

“There’s ways for people, particularly people who should not be allowed to possess a handgun, to still find ways of [buying] a handgun or multiple handguns,” Jones said.

He added that Montgomery County is “no stranger” to the black market for handguns sold illegally.

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“This is significant throughout the United States. This is not just a Montgomery County problem,” he said.

The uptick in gun violence in Montgomery County mirrors spikes in various types of crimes in the county the last two years, including increases in homicides, nonfatal shootings and auto thefts.

The council staff report, which shows statistics for all of 2020, compared to numbers for this year as of Sept. 30:

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  • 17 homicides in 2020; 22 this year
  • 4 kidnappings in 2020, 12 this year
  • 36 carjackings in 2020; 44 this year
  • 381 rapes in 2020; 282 this year
  • 173 sex offenses in 2020; 168 this year
  • 677 aggravated assaults 2020; 589 this year

Jones said the COVID-19 pandemic has been a factor, in that people who were forced to stay inside last year

“Many people have really come outside and become more involved in other types of activities in 2021,” he said.

Albornoz recalled that when he was 9, while searching for Christmas gifts in his family’s home, he accidentally found a gun that was legally purchased. The gun, which his family would later turn in to law enforcement, was not loaded.

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Albornoz said the county should consider increasing its public awareness on the dangers of firearms in the wake of the increase in violent crime.

“I played with that gun, and thank God it did not have ammunition in it,” he said. “It was stored in an area that was locked. I just happened to figure out how to be able to get in.

“I’ve been reflecting on that a lot in this last year and a half, especially with my own kids, and just how south that could have gone. So, I think this is something that we absolutely have to pay more attention to.”

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Dan Schere can be reached at daniel.schere@bethesdamagazine.com