Maryland lawmakers advance gun control bills including bump stock ban, 'red flag' rule

Erin Cox
Contact ReporterThe Baltimore Sun

As students across the country walked out of class on Wednesday to protest school shootings in Florida and beyond, Maryland lawmakers from both parties advanced a pair of bills that Republican Gov. Larry Hogan called “common sense” measures to tighten restrictions on guns.

The legislation that advanced Wednesday in Maryland’s General Assembly would outlaw bump stocks, which make semi-automatic weapons behave like automatic weapons, and create a so-called red flag rule for seizing weapons from people whom judges deem dangerous.

The measures are two of four gun-control bills the General Assembly is considering to tighten the state’s gun laws, already among the most restrictive in the nation, following last month’s shootings at a Parkland, Fla., high school, last year’s massacre in Las Vegas and the recent killing of an off-duty police officer during a domestic dispute in Prince George’s County.

Unlike previous efforts in the Democrat-dominated General Assembly, the current gun-control package is expected to pass with broad bipartisan support.

Lawmakers in Washington and state capitals across the country are also pursuing measures against gun violence. The House of Representatives on Wednesday approved more funding to enhance school security nationwide. Hogan is seeking $125 million to do the same in Maryland. Florida Gov. Rick Scott, a Republican, and the GOP-controlled state legislature in Tallahassee have approved new laws to raise the minimum age for purchasing a firearm, harden security at schools, fund more mental health services and allow for the arming of teachers.

Hogan said the Maryland package “just makes common sense.”

In Annapolis, Republican lawmakers with high National Rifle Association ratings stood on the House of Delegates floor to tinker at the edges — but not outright oppose — new gun control measures for Maryland.

“You’ll see a lot of Republican support,” House Minority Leader Nic Kipke said. “The bills that are being discussed right now are generally not that controversial.”

Kipke, an Anne Arundel County Republican with an A+ rating from the NRA, said everyone wants to “put up road blocks to stopping deranged people.”

The legislature is considering expanding its 2013 assault weapons ban to include the sale or possession of bump stocks and other rapid-fire trigger accelerators, aftermarket accessories that can convert a semi-automatic rifle into a weapon that fires almost as quickly as a machine gun.

The shooter who killed 58 people and wounded hundreds of others at a Las Vegas concert in October used bump stocks to fire into the crowd.

The House of Delegates gave initial approval to the new ban, which will be up for final approval before the end of the week. A similar ban advanced out of a Senate committee Wednesday night.

The only opposition in the House came from lawmakers who questioned whether it should be a crime for people who legally purchased bump stocks to continue to possess them after the law takes effect.

Del. Seth Howard, an Anne Arundel County Republican, counted himself among those who will “become a criminal” if the law passes. Howard said he paid more than $400 for a bump stock about a year and a half ago as “a curiosity.”

Howard introduced an amendment that would have protected gun owners who already possess bump stocks, an exception the General Assembly gave to owners of assault weapons when the state banned the sale of those weapons five years ago. His amendment was voted down by a 45-vote margin.

“To be perfectly honest, you could pitch the thing in a trash can,” said Del. David Moon, the Montgomery County Democrat who introduced the ban.

The House of Delegates also approved a red flag law that would allow judges to order gun owners to temporarily surrender their weapons if they posed an immediate threat to themselves or others.

More than 20 states are considering such legislation after the Parkland shootings last month, when authorities say a student who had been expelled from Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School returned and killed 17 of his former classmates. Florida law enforcement officials have said they were worried about the suspect before the shootings, but had no tools to prevent him from accessing weapons.

“At this point in time, I’d support a lot of things just to stop” such shootings, Del. Jason C. Buckel, an Allegany County Republican. “I’m for almost anything that we could do.”

Buckel and other Republicans tried to amend the proposal to raise the legal burden of proof required to show someone is a threat, but their efforts were voted down.

Advocates for the red flag law say it allows family, mental health professionals and others to intervene before gun owners hurt anyone, including themselves.

“The testimony that was most compelling … was family members trying to prevent suicide,” said Del. Kathy Dumais, vice chairwoman of the House Judiciary Committee, which advanced the bill.

Two other gun-related bills received initial approval from the House on Wednesday. One would give an administrative law judge final say in who may receive a concealed carry permit, taking that power away from a panel of political appointees. The other would create a process to make sure gun owners convicted of domestic violence surrender their firearms. The Maryland Senate has already given final approval to that measure.

Baltimore Sun reporter Pamela Wood contributed to this report.

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