Van Hollen crafts gun licensing bill

Rep. Chris Van Hollen, the Montgomery County Democrat who is running for the Senate, introduced legislation Thursday to encourage states to toughen handgun licensing requirements — an effort he said would reduce homicides.

The bill, supported only by Democrats, would create a federal grant program to help states create permit-to-purchase requirements for all handguns, including those bought at gun shows and from private dealers. They are the kinds of requirements that Maryland approved in 2013.

"States require licenses to drive a car or even to fish in local rivers, so requiring a license to buy a deadly handgun is a common-sense step that could save countless lives," Van Hollen said.

Van Hollen unveiled the legislation in tandem with a study from the Johns Hopkins Center for Gun Policy and Research, which found that a 1995 Connecticut law requiring a permit and background check to purchase a handgun was associated with a 40 percent reduction in firearm-related homicides. Ten states and the District of Columbia have handgun purchaser laws.

Sens. Richard C. Blumenthal and Christopher S. Murphy of Connecticut are introducing similar legislation in the Senate.

The proposal, which is unlikely to advance in the Republican-controlled Congress, would set up a Justice Department grant program.

A spokeswoman for the National Rifle Association dismissed the study and the legislative effort.

"A majority of Americans don't want more gun control and they definitely don't want to have to ask permission from the federal government to exercise their constitutional right," Catherine Mortensen said.

Van Hollen is running to replace Sen. Barbara A. Mikulski, who is retiring. Rep. Donna F. Edwards, a Prince George's County Democrat, also is running.

"Background checks are a good first step, but we've been down this road before," Edwards said. "We need leaders willing to take on the NRA to keep guns out of the hands of criminals and domestic abusers once and for all."

john.fritze@baltsun.com

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