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Left outside in rain, Carroll County residents make views clear on Firearms Safety Act

Vehement opposition was all but universal at a public hearing in Westminster on Gov. Martin O'Malley's proposed gun control legislation.

When the three members of Carroll County's delegation to the Maryland State Senate scheduled a Feb. 26 hearing to get input on the governor's legislation, the senators got a sample of the furor that O'Malley's proposals have ignited with at least some county residents.

The conference room at the Best Western Motel, in Westminster, was already filled to capacity 20 minutes before the scheduled 7 p.m. start to the hearing, with the doors guarded by Maryland State Police and Carroll County Sheriff's deputies.

An estimated 100 people left stranded outside in the rain and wind were reluctant to leave without having a chance to weigh in on the proposed Firearm Safety Act of 2013.

Carroll County Commissioner Richard Rothschild and fellow Commissioner Doug Howard were among those in the overflow crowd in front of the motel.

Rothschild gave a pep rally/planning session that allowed those in the gathering to vent their opposition to the legislation and offer strategies to stave off enforcement of the ban on "military-style assault weapons" if it becomes law.

Rothschild, who opposes the proposed ban, found an enthusiastic audience outside just as there was inside. If any in the crowd was in support of the bill, they kept those feelings to themselves.

After a half an hour or so, the crowd had dwindled down to a couple dozen people that Rothschild led to the motel's reception lobby where the mini-rally continued for another half an hour or so.

There, they were joined by Commissioner Robin Frazier, who also opposes O'Malley's bill, as do the three members of Carroll's Senate delegation.

Their concerns went beyond the gun bill. Many felt the proposal is the first step by the federal and state governments to curtail the Bill of Rights and the U.S. Constitution.

Terms like "tyranny" and "despotic government" were aired.

Hearing a suggestion that the gun bill be put to statewide referendum or, if passed, appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court, Rothschild disagreed. He conceded that the votes to defeat the legislation were "not there" and said he feared the Supreme Court might uphold such a ban.

"Does the Supreme Court have final authority?" he asked rhetorically. "I don't think so. The people should decide. Not the federal government, not the state government."

Rothschild added that as a local official he sees it as his " official duty" to stand between "the people and the state government" on this issue.

He said that if the bill is enacted, he will propose that the Board of Commissioners pass a resolution forbidding its enforcement in Carroll County and another resolution nullifying it.

He said he would urge county officials, including the sheriff, to take a stand and say, "We will arrest a state official who comes into this county to enforce (this statute)."

Rothschild also said he would encourage elected officials in other counties to take similar actions.

Pointing to a sheriff's deputy keeping an eye on the impromptu rally, the commissioner added, "The federal government does not have the right to tell that deputy over there what to do."

Rothschild went on to draw a parallel between the proposal to tighten gun laws and Lincoln's 1861 suspension of the writ of habeas corpus in Maryland and the imprisonment of local and state officials who opposed his administration's policies during the early months of the Civil War.

Someone suggested that President Obama's administration is working to weaken or void the Posse Comatitus Act, which forbids the U.S. military from enforcing any law that it is not specifically empowered to enforce by either the U.S. Constitution or an act of Congress.

Another asserted that an effort to regulate firearms was a direct contradiction to the rights enumerated by the Maryland's Constitution.

One woman pointed out that she had adult children in the military and that she came from a family of hunters. Still, she asked, "Do we really need these assault weapons?"

After about a half an hour, a motel employee politely asked the group to leave the lobby becuase of noise complaints from some guests.

Rothschild cautioned restraint. "We need to be loud, noisy and aggressive about this," he said. "But no violence, no gunfire, nothing like that. Don't get yourself arrested, because that's what they want."

Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun
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