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Gun petition fails, NRA lawsuit looms

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Maryland's new gun control law will not head to voters now that organizers of a petition drive to halt the law failed to turn in any signatures before Friday night's deadline.

"This means there were no successful petitions this year," Stephen Ackerman from the Secretary of State's Office said in an email.

A referendum would have delayed the gun law until after the November 2014, and the petition drive’s failure was welcomed by gun control groups.

"This is a great day for Maryland," said Vincent DeMarco, president of Marylanders to Prevent Gun Violence. "We are thrilled that the new law will take effect as planned and we look forward to making it a model for the nation on how to prevent gun violence."

Yet a promised court challenge still looms from the National Rifle Association and other gun groups, a coalition that urged gun-rights supporters to avoid the petition and instead back legal action.

Maryland’s new law, proposed by Gov. Martin O’Malley and signed in May, is one of the most sweeping responses to the December Newtown, Conn. elementary school shooting that killed 27 and sparked a nationwide push for tougher gun laws.

Under the law, the sale of 45 different types of assault rifles will be banned, as will sales of magazines that hold more than 10 bullets and handguns that only accept such larger magazines. Handgun buyers will need a new license that requires fingerprinting a background check in Maryland’s newly bolstered background check system. More people – particularly those considered dangerous from mental illnesses – would be barred from gun ownership, and gun owners could face criminal penalties for not reporting lost firearms to police.

Polls conducted in Maryland after Newtown showed support for major provisions of the law: 71 percent of voters favor limiting magazine capacity to 10 bullets, and 62 percent support an assault weapons ban. 

A half-dozen gun groups and the NRA announced in April that they would not endorse a petition drive to challenge the law. They said the Second Amendment right to gun ownership should not be put to a public vote.

Instead, they said they would focus energy on the promised NRA-backed lawsuit and campaigns to unseat lawmakers who voted for gun control.

Outgoing NRA President David Keene said in an interview last week that NRA lawyers “are still not sure” when the organization would file suit challenging the constitutionality of Maryland’s ban on the sale of assault-style rifles, among other provisions. The NRA has endorsed lawsuits this year against new gun laws in New York and Colorado.

Maryland Attorney General Douglas F. Gansler issued a 25-page letter in early May outlining why Maryland’s new gun law is constitutional, laying the framework for the anticipated lawsuit.

Sue Payne, the Montgomery County woman leading the effort to petition the law to referendum is expected to give an 8 p.m. interview on WCBM a radio show revealing how many signatures recieved and dealing with the controversy within the gun-rights community over how best to attack the law.

ecox@baltsun.com

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