Advocates, opponents appeal to Maryland lawmakers debating gun qualification license


Dozens of people lined up for hours Monday in Annapolis to give lawmakers two minutes of testimony on gun legislation that could regulate long guns like handguns.

Some supporters of gun bills wore red shirts for Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense in America. Others wore white shirts emblazoned with “we will not comply,” telling lawmakers it was a promise. Monday’s testimony to the Maryland House of Delegates Judiciary Committee was passionate. A box of tissues was placed on the table for speakers who cried during their testimony.

Jan McNamara, sister-in-law of John McNamara, was one of the speakers supporting House Bill 786, which led Monday’s testimony. That bill would regulate hunting rifles and shotguns like handguns.

McNamara was one of five killed in a mass shooting in the Capital Gazette newsroom June 28. Gerald Fischman, Rebecca Smith, Wendi Winters and Rob Hiaasen also died in the attack. The suspected shooter used a legally purchased shotgun, police have said.

“I’m certain that working together Marylanders can find ways to respect the proud tradition of gun owners in this state, and still keep our communities and our families safe,” McNamara said in her testimony.

Monday was “gun day” in the Maryland House of Delegates Judiciary Committee. The committee held hearings on a slew of gun bills. Bills included the aforementioned House Bill 786 along with legislation increasing mandatory sentences for repeat offenders using guns in violent crimes and another that would prohibit ownership of 3D-printed guns.

Del. Vanessa Atterbeary, D-Howard County, sponsored House Bill 786 and has dozens of cosponsors. Testimony on the bill began at 10 a.m. and bled into the afternoon, lasting about four hours.

If passed, House Bill 786 would require Maryland residents acquire a long gun qualification license before purchasing said weapon. This would regulate shotguns and hunting rifles much like handguns. Purchasers first have to get the license.

Then, only one long gun may be purchased within a 30-day period and there is 7-day waiting period upon purchasing the gun. Maryland law already requires background checks on long guns when buying from a license seller. Unlicensed dealers, such as private sales, don’t require background checks on long guns under current law.

The bill is estimated to cost about $3.4 million in fiscal year 2020 as the Department of State Police will have to create a new system to track licenses as well as long gun transfers and sales, according to a fiscal analysis of the bill. Implementing the bill also would require 30 permanent and 25 contractual employees and more office and storage space.

Much of the testimony on House Bill 786 came from opponents. They accused the state of trying to harm law-abiding gun owners by requiring the license, making it more difficult for poorer residents to buy the firearms. They also argued long guns aren’t a public safety risk because they are rarely used in homicides. They asked lawmakers to consider legislation improving access to mental health care rather than creating licenses for gun ownership.

In Maryland, there were two murders with a shotgun and two with a rifle, according to the 2016 Maryland State Police Uniform Crime Report. There were 368 murders with a handgun in 2016, according to the same data.

“Apart from the illegality of the requirements imposed by these bills,” said Mark Pennak, president of Maryland Shall Issue, a gun rights advocate group. “The bill inappropriately criminalize private sales of long guns even though such long guns are seldom used in a crime.”

Supporters of the bill countered these statistics by saying a shotgun or rifle is capable of larger scale death than someone armed with a knife. They also argued the bill could reduce the instances of suicide by long guns by preventing immediate purchase. Firearms make up about half of all suicide deaths in the United States, according to Centers for Disease Control and Prevention 2016 statistics.

Requiring the license and background checks by unlicensed sellers could prevent the gun from falling into the wrong hands, supporters said.

“We don’t understand why one gun doesn’t have a background check and the other doesn’t when they are both just as deadly,” said Danielle Veith, the Maryland Chapter Leader for Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense in America.

Other legislation to be heard on Monday included Gov. Larry Hogan’s legislation, House Bill 236, strengthening mandatory minimum sentences for repeat offenders using a firearm in a violent crime. Under that bill, a second offense comes with a mandatory minimum of 10 years. Current law mandates a five-year minimum sentence for using a firearm in a violent crime.

House Bill 740 would outlaw the possession, creation and sale of homemade, 3D-printed guns and other firearms made after 1968 that don’t have federally issues serial numbers. Current federal law forbids possession of undetectable firearms.

House Bill 468 changes Maryland gun storage laws to include unloaded firearms. Current law requires loaded firearms be stored in locations inaccessible to unsupervised children.

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