It is unfortunate that the recent Washington Post Editorial (3/22/13) focused
on only one aspect of the important gun safety legislation currently pending before the Maryland General Assembly this session. No decisions have been
made yet and characterizations in the press have been made for the sole purpose
of strong arming the Governor’s agenda. When you have the bully pulpit, I guess that’s your prerogative.
Here's the "rest of the story." In the House of Delegates, the Governor's bill is assigned to two Committees - the Judiciary Committee, where I am Vice Chair,
and the Health & Government Operations Committee (HGO), because the
bill encompasses multiple sections of the Maryland code including Criminal Law,
Public Safety, Courts, and Mental Health. At the beginning of the session when the bill was introduced, the Speaker appointed a bi-partisan work group composed of 6 members from each Committee. He has done this in the past
on complex legislation. I co-chair the work group with Chairman Pete Hammen from the HGO. The work group spent many hours meeting with various groups interested in the legislation. In fact, over a four week period, the work group met at least 4 days a week for approximately 2 hours.
We met with multiple members of law enforcement, including Chief Johnson from Baltimore County who serves on President Obama's Commission on Gun Safety and Commissioner Batts from Baltimore City; mental health professionals; the Maryland Secretary of the Department of Mental Health & Hygiene, Dr. Sharfstein; the Maryland Gun Dealer's Association; Marylanders to Prevent Gun Violence; the NRA; representatives of gun manufacturers; representatives of gun clubs; the MD Superintendent of Schools; and many others. We also had a
presentation by Daniel Webster, the researcher from Johns Hopkins who edited
the book "Reducing Gun Violence in America," -- which I've read; and reviewed other articles and research regarding what works in the area of preventing gun violence. The concept behind the work group is that there would be a critical mass on the committees with more than a working knowledge of the issues, law and statistics that the Governor's legislation addresses.
The Committees then had the hearing on the bill on March 1. Over 1300 people came to Annapolis and signed up to testify. We made special accommodations to allow for sign up and to allow for the witnesses to listen to and watch the hearings in other rooms. The hearings started at noon on Friday, March 1 and ended at 3:45 am on Saturday morning March 2.
Now, the House Committees are in the process of working through the bill and making decisions on a final product. It is correct that I recently said to a reporter that based on the research done by the work group and based on my 10 years on the Judiciary Committee listening to testimony and reviewing gun legislation
and Maryland law, I have some doubt about whether a total "assault weapon
ban" is necessary or effective in accomplishing the goal of preventing gun
violence. However, no decisions have been made by the Committees and no
specific weapons have been identified.
What is disconcerting, disappointing and frustrating is that the work group and the whole Committees have put in an incredible amount of hours and are still working on the bill. To be honest, the House bill will be stronger in many ways than what the Maryland Senate passed. But, before our work is finished -- it's criticized. And, what is worse, it's criticized by individuals who clearly had no idea what the research on the effectiveness of assault weapons bans shows or the research on other aspects of gun control legislation; what the proposed legislation
includes; or what the committees are considering. I wonder if anyone involved in the drafting of the Editorial even knew anything about Maryland's existing laws regarding the purchase of centerfire rifles -- particularly how strict Maryland's laws are compared to other States. I doubt anyone drafting the Editorial considered the number of deaths in Maryland from rifles compared to the number of deaths from handguns when determining what the legislation for MARYLAND should address. In fact, of the 398 deaths resulting from guns in Maryland in 2011, only 2 were from rifles – all of the others were from handguns. Clearly, that is where our focus needs to be.
The components of the legislation that I think will make a real difference in the lives of Maryland citizens are as follows: a limit on the size of the magazines to 10;enactment of a license to purchase process for handguns that includes
fingerprinting – based on the empirical research conducted by Dr. Daniel Webster
from Johns Hopkins University; strengthening the provisions of our law regarding who is prohibited from purchasing guns if they have had mental health issues; requiring training before the purchase of a handgun; strengthening the ability of law enforcement to review the records of gun dealers on a regular basis; prohibiting the sale of “cop killer bullets”; adding a provision to our laws regarding the reporting of lost and stolen guns; requiring individuals to register specific types of guns when they move to Maryland; and other provisions that are still being considered.
It is easy to jump on a National bandwagon and, no pun intended, take pot shots at legislators doing their jobs in order to advance a particular agenda. But, I really wish someone on the Post Editorial Board had investigated beyond this
single, oversimplified issue of an "assault weapon ban." Or, had even taken the time to understand the rest of the components of the pending legislation.
No one talks about the fact that there are well over 60,000 so called assault rifles in Maryland that have been legally purchased in Maryland over the past twenty years -- all of which will be grandfathered in under the proposed bill. Those are
the guns we know about because they were purchased in Maryland. If current residents moved here with "assault" weapons legally purchased in other states, we have no record of them and have no idea how many exist in Maryland. So, the proposed assault weapon ban is a bit of a panacea. Therefore, requiring strict regulation and registration at purchase and limiting magazine size -- as well as banning some weapons per law enforcement recommendations is one option. Or, a complete ban may well be the right course.
The House of Delegates is doing a comprehensive analysis and thorough vetting of the legislation. Instead of being commended for taking the time to be thoughtful and fair, we are being slammed for not rubber stamping the Governor's agenda. Please note that the Committees may well decide that a complete ban is the right course for Maryland. We will deliberate this week. Whatever decision is made, it will not be made lightly and will be
based on empirical data and research, and a great deal of soul-searching.
Maryland House of Delegates
Vice Chair, House Judiciary Committee
6 Bladen Street, Room 101
Annapolis, MD 21401