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Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan backs gun-control measures, money for school security

Erin Cox
Contact ReporterThe Baltimore Sun

Gov. Larry Hogan urged state lawmakers Wednesday to pass two measures designed to take guns away from people identified as dangerous, and proposed spending $125 million to enhance security at schools in the wake of a mass shooting that killed 17 people at a Florida high school.

“Classrooms should never be a place of fear for our children,” Hogan said. “Government at all levels is grappling with what more can be done to keep our kids safe.”

The announcement by Maryland’s Republican governor comes amid renewed calls for greater gun restrictions in response to the shootings two weeks ago at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Fla.

“I’ve never seen this much focus and attention,” Hogan said. “I feel as if we maybe we have reached a point where people are finally ready to get something done.”

Hogan, who holds an A-minus rating from the National Rifle Association, endorsed creating a “red flag” law that would allow judges to temporarily order gun owners to surrender firearms if they are deemed to be a danger to themselves or others.

Five states currently allow such protection orders. More than a dozen others, including Maryland, are weighing legislation. The Maryland bill was introduced this year before the Florida shootings.

Hogan said he also supports a measure that would ensure that gun owners who are convicted of domestic violence surrender their weapons. That legislation has been introduced for three years, but has drawn more attention since a Prince George’s County police officer was shot and killed last week trying to protect a neighbor from her estranged husband.

The $125 million proposal for securing public schools in Maryland would include reinforced doors and panic buttons to prevent and react to shooters. Hogan proposed spending money generated by Maryland’s casinos, which he had already designed for school construction.

He suggested two other ongoing spending initiatives that amount to $55 million each year. He proposed spending $50 million annually on “school safety grants” that could pay for armed school resource officers, technology and counselors at public schools. He also proposed a 10-fold increase in funding for the state’s Center for School Safety, which would include money to hire social media experts to scour the internet looking for threats.

Hogan is running for re-election in November. Democrats said Wednesday he was having an election-year conversion to gun control.

“It’s nice that the governor is finally getting on board with gun violence prevention after three and a half years,” said state Sen. Richard S. Madaleno Jr., one of seven Democrats vying for the nomination to oppose him in November. “The kids of Florida and the kids of Maryland are finally starting to scare him into action.”

Without naming Maryland’s 2013 assault weapons ban — which Hogan opposed as a candidate but said he would not seek to overturn — the governor said Maryland was “ahead of the curve.”

“Maryland already enacted many of the measures that other states are just now beginning to think about and talk about,” he said.

Baltimore County Executive Kevin Kamenetz, another Democratic challenger, said “we are ‘ahead of the curve’ despite you, not because of you.”

While backing the new measures, Hogan appeared to cast doubt on a link between gun restrictions and crime.

“Before I took office, Maryland already had some of the toughest gun laws in America,” he told reporters. “But that didn’t stop 343 people from being gunned down and killed in Baltimore city last year, because criminals don’t usually follow gun laws, or murder laws, or drug laws.”

Maryland lawmakers have begun debating gun control bills amid a national debate energized by the Florida shootings and the “Never Again” movement started by student survivors.

Maryland banned assault rifles in 2013 after 20 children and six staff members were shot to death at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn.

In Annapolis Wednesday, legislative committees held a hearing on a proposal to expand that ban to include so-called bump stocks and other accessories that turn semi-automatic weapons into automatic weapons. The shooter in the October massacre in Las Vegas killed 58 people and wounded more than 800 with weapons equipped with bump stocks.

Both Hogan and President Donald J. Trump, another Republican, have endorsed banning the accessory, as have the General Assembly’s Democratic leaders.

“President Trump and I don’t agree on many things, but we do agree on this,” House Speaker Michael E. Busch, an Anne Arundel County Democrat, said at the hearing.

Sharon Alford, the NRA’s lobbyist for Maryland, called the bill banning bump stocks “overly broad,” and said it would ban features that don’t have anything to with rapidly firing guns. The association’s Institute for Legislative Action said the bill criminalizes features used in competitions or to make weapons more ergonomic.

“The National Rifle Association is opposed to the banning of any firearms or firearm-related accessory. Full stop,” Alford told lawmakers.

Republican Del. Joseph C. Cluster told Alford he has a good voting record with the NRA, but he was troubled by footage of the rapid fire produced by a bump stock, and he struggled to see why someone would need it.

“I was just wondering if the NRA was going to change their opinion on that, but I take it that you’re not,” he said.

“We’re not,” Alford agreed. “It’s the Bill of Rights, not the bill of needs.”

Wednesday was the first of several days focused on gun legislation in Annapolis.

On Thursday, lawmakers are scheduled to consider a “red flag” law its sponsor described as a “time out” and “early intervention” for gun owners whose behavior makes family members and associates concerned. The law would allow a judge to temporarily require such a person to surrender his or her guns until a hearing, and then potentially extend the ban on possessing or buying firearms for one year.

“In these very tragic situations, we hear all too often that the gun owner sent out some signals, and there was some sense by other family members or someone close to the shooter or law enforcement, there was an impending sense that something was going to happen,” said Del. Geraldine Valentino-Smith, the Prince George’s County Democrat who introduced the bill.

Next Tuesday, the House Judiciary Committee is set to consider more than 30 bills dealing with firearms.

One bill calls for allowing school employees to carry guns on campus. Another aims to create a system to ensure that gun owners convicted of domestic violence offenses surrender their weapons, as they are already required to do by Maryland law. There’s no mechanism, however, to force people to give them up or to verify that they did.

Del. Vanessa E. Atterbeary, a Howard County Democrat, introduced the domestic violence bill three years in a row. Last year, she held up photos of 11 women who she said were killed by domestic abusers who had guns they were not allowed to possess.

While she’s glad that Maryland’s leaders are coalescing behind it now, she’s outraged it took this long.

“It’s taken three years to get this point,” she said, “And then it took Parkland.”

Baltimore Sun reporter Michael Dresser contributed to this article.

ecox@baltsun.com

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