Maryland gun dealers have sold more firearms in the first nine months of this year than in all of 2011 and 2012 combined, the state police said Wednesday.
Buyers have applied to purchase 117,009 guns this year as lawmakers debated and enacted some of the toughest new gun laws in the country. More than 15,000 gun purchase applications were sent to the state police in the 10 days before Maryland's ban on assault rifle sales and a new handgun licensing requirement took effect Tuesday.
"Maryland is armed to the teeth," said Del. Luiz Simmons, a Montgomery County Democrat who voted for the law but argued that the assault rifle ban was not strong enough. "We caused this rush, this stampede really, to purchase guns."
State police could not say how many of the firearms purchased this year were handguns or assault rifles, but they have a backlog of more than 60,000 background checks to make sure the buyers are allowed to own those guns.
Even though the sale of assault rifles is now illegal in Maryland, anyone who legally owns one can keep it, any qualified buyer who ordered one before Tuesday can pick it up, and assault rifle owners can leave their guns to family members in their wills.
"It'll be a generation before the effects of this bill will be felt," Simmons said.
The surge in sales in Maryland began with the December shooting of 20 children and six educators at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn. The gunman, police said, used an AR-15, a semi-automatic military-style rifle whose sale is banned under the new law. The gun-buying escalated in the weeks and months before Maryland's new law took effect.
More than 4,300 gun purchase applications were filed on Saturday and Sunday alone, doubling an already unprecedented rate of 1,000 purchases per day earlier in the month.
When Gov. Martin O'Malley first floated the idea of an assault-weapons ban in December, he said, "I think we have too many guns." In April, as gun sales climbed, O'Malley told The Baltimore Sun the Newtown shootings required a response, even if it prompted a surge in gun buying.
"Had there not been a massacre of tiny children with a military assault weapon, there wouldn't have been a need to change our laws," O'Malley said at the time. "We can talk tragedy, and we can talk response to tragedy. History doesn't always move in straight lines. What alternative was there? To do nothing and hope that people would forget and therefore not go out and buy guns? I mean, what do you do? Do you allow your own actions to be constrained by the paranoia and fears of others?"
Western Maryland Del. Kevin Kelly, a Democrat, voted against the measure and helped convince his colleagues to let people with orders for assault rifles pick them up after the ban took effect. Kelly said Wednesday he was surprised gun sales for the year weren't even higher.
"Anyone who could not have foreseen that is nothing short of a lunatic," Kelly said. "Only a moron would have not foreseen that. … Do I think it's less safe because there are 117,000 more guns out there? Absolutely not. You could make the argument that it's more safe."
More than half the state's dealers have turned over firearms to buyers without waiting for background checks — which can take months — to be completed, police have said. By law, dealers are required to wait only seven days.
A constitutional challenge to the assault rifle ban is still pending in court, though a federal judge declined Tuesday to issue a temporary restraining order to block the law from taking effect.
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