Gun control debate shows divide between two cultures

By Len Lazarick

Glock handgun

Photo by Rob Bixby

The debate and vote on a sweeping new gun control measure that establishes a stringent licensing regime for handguns reflected a sharp split between two different cultures in Maryland. One shuns guns as instruments of violence and the other embraces them as essential to freedom and safety.

“We live in two different societies,” said House Majority Whip Talmadge Branch, one urban and the other rural. Branch described crime scenes of gun deaths in his Baltimore City district, where he attends funerals, “sometimes it’s two a week, sometimes it’s two a month.”

Del. Mike McDermott, a long-time cop from Worcester County on the Lower Shore, agreed. “That’s a tale of two states,” said McDermott, one of the loudest voices in opposition to the gun control measure advanced by Gov. Martin O’Malley, SB281. For McDermott and compatriots, guns are a part of their heritage, a rite of passage and a source of bonding in the hunting and gun-culture.

Little understanding on each side

The two sides don’t much understand each other, but both had constituents backing their positions partly out of fear.

Gun Rally assault rifle come and take

From the Guns Across America Maryland Facebook page

The urban culture fears for the safety of their homes and communities from people wielding guns. The rural culture fears that these people wanted to take away their guns, their safety and their liberty.

For the gun culture, guns are a right that came not just from the Constitution but from God. Weapons are a defense not just against those who would do them harm but a protection from the tyranny of government.

The gun owners were the most passionate on the legislation that passed the House of Delegates Wednesday 78-61. They showed up by the thousands to demonstrate and testify, even into the wee hours of the morning. They flooded legislators with emails and phone calls. They wore both camouflage gear and coats and ties, and they were predominantly white males, a group that may still pull the levers of power in Maryland, but are a distinct minority demographically, perhaps less than 10% of the population.

The other side was quieter and less visible, but according to both statewide and national polling data, much larger by far. The populace as a whole overwhelmingly favors tighter restrictions on guns in the wake of the massacre at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn. in December. It was this tragedy that drove the debate, evoked by both sides to justify their positions on one element of the bill or another.

Agreement on mental health

Both sides overwhelmingly agreed that guns should be kept out of the hands of the mentally ill, but how to define mental illness and prevent them from having guns without discouraging treatment by health professionals was more difficult.

They parted ways on other aspects of the gun control bill. Gun control advocates wanted to ban the most awful of the semi-automatic weapons, but found “assault weapons” more difficult to define than expected, calling some of them “copycat weapons” in the bill. They also wanted to restrict ammunition clips to 10 bullets in hopes of preventing mass killings.

Advocates from the gun culture found the focus on the weapons ludicrous. One man’s assault rifle was another woman’s comfortable weapon of choice, easier to handle and fire.

Licensing the biggest sticking point

The biggest sticking point was the licensing provision. Maryland already has some of the country’s stricter gun purchasing laws, requiring background checks for all purchases and a permitting process involving state police approval. But gun-control advocates like Vinny DeMarco, who conceded that the Supreme Court’s Heller decision established a personal right to own a weapon, saw the licensing regime as the principal way to prevent guns from landing in the hands of criminals by discouraging straw purchases.

Gun control advocates, like two-thirds of the state, live in homes with no guns and couldn’t grasp how anyone could object to being trained to use a deadly weapon before it was purchased. They also wanted gun buyers to get fingerprinted as well, a provision gun owners found noxious because they believed it treated them as common criminals.

Emotions ran high

Emotions ran particularly high on the side of the debate seeking to prevent destruction of the Second Amendment Right of the people to bear arms. What part of “shall not be infringed” don’t you understand? they would ask.

What part of “well-regulated militia” doesn’t cover an additional layer of gun control? proponents asked.

In the end, the gun culture saw the law doing little good and a lot of harm. The urbanites saw it as a step in the right direction.

Presuming the Senate will go along with the House changes, the irony of the push for gun control, pointed out Del. Luiz Simmons, D-Montgomery, was that it has led to a massive run of gun purchases that will continue until the new law goes into effect Oct. 1. This influx of new weapons will keep generations of Maryland citizens armed and was no victory for gun control.

About The Author

Len Lazarick

Len Lazarick was the founding editor and publisher of and is currently the president of its nonprofit corporation and chairman of its board He was formerly the State House bureau chief of the daily Baltimore Examiner from its start in April 2006 to its demise in February 2009. He was a copy editor on the national desk of the Washington Post for eight years before that, and has spent decades covering Maryland politics and government.


  1. Cindy B-More

    This bill/law will not do anything to reduce violent crime. I think the vast majority of us realize that. This bill/law simply puts additional restrictions on law abiding gun owners, who have been giving in again and again for many years.

    When the anti-gun side sees that the gun laws don’t work, they blame it on “loopholes” and think additional gun laws will somehow help. We go through this over and over and over.

    The sad thing is that the Governor used us (legislators and constituents) as pawns in his selfish goal to build his resume by passing this bill. He misrepresented the bill publicly, and pressured Democrat legislators behind closed doors to support it.

  2. floridarooster

    The amount of ignorance about guns is staggering. Even the guy that wrote this article displays his ignorance when he refers to magazines as “clips.” Those who support gun control have probably never owned a firearm or learned the safe use of one. It is all emotion and no logic. This law will do NOTHING to disarm all the street thugs, drug dealers, and career criminals who prey on each other mostly and sometimes on law abiding citizens. Maryland is tragic – let’s do away with the death penalty and make if very difficult for law abiding citizens to protect themselves. That will not change the outcome.

  3. A Responsible Shoreman

    I think your numbers are wrong. Polls reflect the folks who commission them and there were several taken here in Maryland that showed the numbers to be reversed from your story. Either way, the one poll that cannot be denied is the one referenced at the end of the story where the debate has convinced those people who did not own guns but knew they had the right to get one when they felt they needed it, have now seen that right whittled away and fear its loss altogether. They are the ones who are pushing the gun sales to record levels, not from fear of any person or group but from fear of the loss of their right to do so at a later time. The average citizens are the ones who are buying the guns and ammo at this time and that in itself speaks to their thoughts on the gun control measures. They WANT to have access to defensive weapons of THEIR choice. The bottom line is this, the people of Maryland are voting with their dollars because they can’t trust their politicians to do it for them.
    So much for the gun issues. Now, this was all supposed to be an effort to reduce the mass killings that we have seen too much of in the last few years. Will this legislation do that?? Probably not. What we should focus on is an issue that also deals with one of our rights from the Bill Of Rights, the right of freedom of expression and freedom of the press. I am a firm believer in our Constitutional Rights, but I also believe that citizens need to exercise those rights in a responsible manner. The press needs to look at their role in the spread of these mass murders as much as the politicians looked at the guns. Remember when streaking was a big thing in the ball field and public events years ago? The media at that time realized that their coverage of those events was feeding the problem. They chose to not address the streakers in their media coverage. They acknowledged that it happened but they did not report who the person was, why they did it, or other details that would encourage others to follow suit. As a result, the practice quickly faded away without the need for additional laws. The press is to be commended for that responsible decision to reduce the problem over the need to sensationalize the event for their own short term gains. I believe the press is an unintended supporter of the spread of these killings. I believe that if the press just simply refused to report the names of the individuals who commit these crimes, it would lessen to attractiveness of the events to those in our communities that may feel this is what they would like to do when the time comes they decide they don’t want to live in our society any longer and decide to make their Last Stand one that will give them their 15 days of fame. I believe the press plays directly into the problems people like this are working with and gives them an opportunity to be famous on their way out. Do I believe we need to pass laws to keep the press from doing this?? NO! I do believe that a dialog with the press needs to be opened and for the press to take responsible actions to limit the sensationalizing of these terrible events.
    The answers don’t lie with the control of inanimate objects. They lie in the minds of our people. Guns are just something we can ban and say that we did something about the problem. That is just one aspect to the answer. Ok.. this is much longer than I intended. If you are still reading, thanks for your concern for the problem.

    • metro143

      I’m so tired of Maryland, My home, The state where I was born. The state that I once loved. Now all I get is more and more taxes, wasteful government. less freedom, more government regulations. It’s always a new law that is needed to stop crime. The Saturday night special law. Eight day waiting period law. The laws don’t work. I go to courts in Baltimore city all the time. Same old story. If you really want to know why crime is so high in the state. Go to court in Baltimore. Ask these questions to your legislators What is the average jail time for a person convicted of murder in Maryland and Baltimore city. They never tell you about how many murderers serve less than 10 years in jail. They don’t tell you that many of the people who support gun control and pass these laws have and carry firearms for their protection. Governor O’mally leave us alone. or better yet. Just leave

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