Democrats in the Maryland legislature are pushing three new gun bills that would prohibit people from carrying firearms on the campuses of the state's public colleges, require domestic abusers to surrender their guns and bar terrorists from purchasing them.
General Assembly leaders said Wednesday they would try to strengthen Maryland's gun laws, which are already among the strongest in the nation, setting up a confrontation with Republican Gov. Larry Hogan.
Attorney General Brian E. Frosh, who was crucial in passing sweeping gun law changes as a legislator in 2013, joined House Speaker Michael E. Busch, Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller and other top Democrats in announcing the legislation aimed at "keeping guns away from those who would endanger others."
"If we can do a better job of keeping guns out of the hands of domestic abusers, keeping guns out of the hands of people who are terrorists," Frosh said, "we can reduce the gun deaths in Maryland."
Hogan declined through a spokesman to comment.
When he campaigned for governor in 2014, Hogan said that he did not support the 2013 law that banned the sale of assault weapons and required a license to buy a handgun. But he told supporters it would not be possible to get the Democrat-controlled legislature to overturn it. He was endorsed that year by the National Rifle Association.
The measures announced by Democratic leaders Wednesday are targeted more narrowly. If passed by the General Assembly, they would nonetheless force Hogan to stake out positions on an issue he has largely avoided.
Busch, one of Hogan's chief political sparring partners, said the proposals were common sense.
"The vast majority of people in both political parties understand that [these are] simple protections that their constituents would like to see," Busch said.
NRA spokeswoman Amy Hunter said the proposals were "nothing more than politics at its worst" and rebuked Democratic leaders for not offering ideas that would "address the crime epidemic plaguing Baltimore City."
"Not one of these laws would address the real issues facing Maryland or improve public safety," Hunter said. "Instead of addressing real problems, they are trying to push a political agenda by proposing laws that are redundant, impede law-abiding citizens from exercising their constitutional rights and would do nothing to improve public safety."
One bill would ban firearms from public universities and community colleges. Currently, the schools set their own policy.
Washington College was shut down for a week last fall while authorities searched for a student who had brandished a gun on campus. Campuses from Virginia Tech to Umpqua Community College in Oregon have suffered deadly shootings in recent years.
"I want our college campuses to be a sanctuary. No guns," Miller said.
The Senate president is a gun collector who largely stayed out of the debate over the 2013 gun law. He said he had never sponsored a gun control measure before.
The campus gun ban bill would establish a three-year prison sentence and a $1,000 fine for carrying a firearm onto the grounds of a public college or university. Del. Ben Barnes of Prince George's County and Sen. Richard S. Madaleno of Montgomery County, both Democrats, are the primary sponsors.
The second bill would require gun owners to surrender their firearms if convicted of a domestic-violence charge. It is already illegal to keep a gun if convicted of such a crime, but the law neither requires a judge to inform gun owners of that provision nor compels convicts to give up their firearms.
Sen. Jamie Raskin, who is running for Congress, and Del. William C. Smith Jr., both Montgomery County Democrats, are the primary sponsors of that measure.
The third bill would prohibit anyone on the FBI's terrorism watch list from purchasing a gun. President Barack Obama has called for such a ban, as has Rep. Chris Van Hollen, who is running for the U.S. Senate.
In December, Van Hollen called on Hogan to use executive power to prevent such sales. Hogan dismissed the request as "politics" and "silly" because the Maryland State Police's comprehensive gun background checks already flag applicants on the federal no-fly list.
"It's not an issue in Maryland," Hogan said at the time. "No one on any watch list has ever received a gun."
Hogan spokesman Douglass Mayer said the governor has not changed his position on the issue, but would not comment on any legislation that he has not seen.
Sen. Jim Rosapepe, a Prince George's County Democrat, sponsored the terrorism bill. He mocked Hogan for refusing to back a proposal that his friend and political mentor, Gov. Chris Christie of New Jersey, signed into law in his state.
"If his friend Governor Christie can stand up to the NRA to protect his constituents from terrorists, why can't Governor Hogan?" Rosapepe said.
Maryland State Police spokesman Gregory Shipley said troopers assigned to gun background checks search federal databases that would reveal whether a gun buyer was on a federal terrorism list.
Shipley said troopers are trained to follow up with federal authorities if that happened, but to date, they have never come across a gun buyer who was on the watch list.
Senate Minority Leader J.B. Jennings, a Baltimore County Republican, said he did not object to the proposals, provided they protected the rights of law-abiding citizens.
But "the devil's in the details," he said.