Democrats introduce more gun control legislation

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By Rachel Bluth

Capital News Service

Miller Busch legislators gun safety 2-10-2016

Senate President Mike Miller at podium and House Speaker Michael Busch discuss gun safety legislation. CNS photo by Rachel Bluth

Days after the U.S. Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals sent Maryland’s assault weapon ban back to a lower court for strict review, top Democrats in the state legislature announced new measures to strengthen gun safety laws.

Senate President Mike Miller and House Speaker Michael Busch on Wednesday announced three new gun safety bills, alongside Democratic sponsors and cosponsors in the House and Senate.

One bans guns on college campuses; one bans anyone on the FBI’s terrorist watch list from purchasing a gun in Maryland; and the third requires judges to inform anyone convicted of a domestic violence offense that they must surrender their weapons

Miller said he has six grandchildren on college campuses, and he wants them to be “gun-free sanctuaries.”

“None of us want our children to be exposed to gun violence when they’re off at school, whether it’s walking into kindergarten or walking into graduate school,” said Sen. Richard Madaleno, D-Montgomery, who is sponsoring the legislation that would ban guns on all college campuses in Maryland. Del. Ben Barnes, D-Prince George’s, is sponsoring the bill in the House.

Guns as defense

House Minority Whip Kathy Szeliga from Baltimore County, a candidate for U.S. Senate, said she was not convinced that banning guns on college campuses would keep people safer.

“My aide, her son was at Virginia Tech when the shooting occurred,” Szeliga said. “Her reaction was if someone had a gun, maybe lives would’ve been saved.”

Madaleno warned against only thinking of mass shootings when considering gun safety. He said he was more concerned with individual instances, like suicide or relationship violence.

“We need to dispel this Hollywood-driven myth that any of us can turn into James Bond and respond to some sort of incident,” he said.

Another bill in the package, sponsored by Sen. Jamie Raskin and Delegate Will Smith, both Democrats from Montgomery, is meant to keep guns away from people convicted of domestic violence.

Preventing domestic violence

Currently under Maryland law, felons and those who have been convicted of abuse aren’t allowed to own or buy guns, but Raskin, who is running for Congress, said the problem is enforcement.

This law would require judges to inform those convicted of domestic violence that they have 48 hours to surrender their guns to law enforcement or a licensed gun dealer, and five days to produce written proof that they have done so.

Though the law has no penalty for judges who do not comply, Maryland Attorney General Brian Frosh said merely providing a legal mechanism will be enough.

“They’re not doing it now because it’s an oversight. If the legislature lays out a clear path for them to follow, they’ll follow it,” Frosh said. “Judges follow the law.”

Federal terrorist watch list

Lastly, legislation sponsored in the Senate by James Rosapepe, D-Prince George’s, and in the House by Luke Clippinger, D-Baltimore, would prevent anyone who is on the federal terrorist watch list from buying a gun.

“We’re protecting people in Maryland, and really people across the country, by preventing people on the terror watch list from buying guns,” Clippinger said.

The law is modeled after a similar one in New Jersey, signed by Gov. Chris Christie, a Republican.

Frosh said he didn’t anticipate a constitutional problem with restricting gun ownership for people who may be on the list but haven’t been convicted of a crime.

A spokeswoman for Gov. Larry Hogan said Wednesday afternoon the governor had not seen the bills yet and didn’t know whether they would reach his desk, so he had no comment. She also noted that in a meeting with the governor Tuesday about legislative priorities, Miller did not mention his plans for these bills.

Appeals court reversal on Firearms Act

This announcement came a week after the U.S. Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals struck down a lower court ruling upholding an assault weapon ban that was part of the Maryland Firearm Safety Act in 2013.

The court’s ruling does not overturn the act, instead the case goes back to the U.S. District Court to apply a “strict scrutiny” test on whether the FSA violates the Second Amendment. Frosh said his office will appeal the ruling, and meanwhile, the assault weapon ban is still in effect.

Del. Susan Krebs, a Republican from Carroll County who has supported gun rights in the past, said at first blush, the new legislation seems unnecessary.

“All they want to do is restrict, restrict, restrict, instead of getting to the root of the problem, which not the guns, it’s the people,” she said.