The state firearms control legislation moving through the Maryland General Assembly drew fierce criticism from two people during the Havre de Grace City Council meeting Monday night.
Councilman Bill Martin was the first to speak against the bill and the state representatives who proposed it, and Bill Watson, of Havre de Grace Main Street, passionately agreed with him.
Both men called the bill, which would create some of the toughest weapon restrictions in the country by banning the sale of 45 assault-type rifles and limit magazines to 10 bullets, a violation of civil liberties and a knee-jerk reaction based on fear.
Gun rights advocates have also criticized the proposal of forcing those who already own such guns to register them with Maryland State Police, as well as requiring a license to buy a gun, which would mean giving fingerprints to State Police and finishing a safety class.
Recalling a class he took in school, Martin, a teacher, quoted Thomas Jefferson in Latin: "I prefer tumultuous freedom to quiet servitude."
He said he was not talking about party politics and conceded it is "human nature, when bad things happen, to ask for protection."
Martin cited the Patriot Act that came out after the Sept. 11 terror attacks, as well as what he called a major incident during the Revolutionary War when the British came to confiscate weapons from the American colonies on April 19, 1775.
"Again, we look for answers, we look for somebody to blame," he said in reference to the gun bill. "I'll tell you another generation that was scared: Our founding fathers."
"Here we are, 200 years later, and we have 10 amendments," Martin said, adding that "liberty has a lot of definitions" but infringement only has one.
"If we learned one thing, it's stand fast on your principles, on your liberties," he added.
Martin also said Maryland had a gun law that last year at the federal district court level was deemed unconstitutional.
"If we passed unconstitutional laws here on this council, you guys would have our heads," he said. "I cringe with what Annapolis is doing."
Martin also blasted government infringement on other personal freedoms, like using a cell phone while driving.
"I've almost wrecked my car eating a hamburger. When are we going to start with fast food?" he asked jokingly.
Martin got a round of applause after he asked everyone interested to send a letter opposing the gun bill to their state representatives.
Watson, who was sitting in the audience, then got up to say Martin took the words out of his mouth.
"This is incredibly important, this issue of our civil liberties," Watson said, noting he sees an attack on them. "It's very serious stuff, folks; I'm not kidding."
"Whether you agree with the legislation or not, you need to pay attention," he said.
Watson also mentioned the Patriot Act, the suspension of liberties in 1798 in the aftermath of the French Revolution "because they were scared we might lose our own government" and the internment of Japanese Americans in 1941 in the wake of the Pearl Harbor attack.
State representatives today, he said, have "the audacity to fingerprint every citizen if you want to own a gun. That's obscene, folks."
Watson asked if anyone thought it would have been a good idea for the state to fingerprint all Muslims after Sept. 11, just in case, to which no one raised their hands.
"I find the hypocrisy so blatant among people who are fighting these laws," he then said, mentioning supporters of abortion rights who are so against restricting abortion rights but "are so quick to restrict our rights to have weapons."
Councilman Joe Smith then interrupted, pointing out that Mayor Wayne Dougherty said at the last council meeting that residents only had three minutes to speak and Watson had gone on longer than that.
Dougherty overruled the objection, allowing Watson to keep talking.
Watson said sarcastically he was sorry if Smith disagreed with him, to which Smith replied no apologies were necessary.
"If we have societal unrest to the point of complete anarchy, you can better believe I don't want my right to bear arms infringed upon," Watson said, asking people to "look into your hearts as an American."