Lawmakers debate reforms to address gun backlog

As lawmakers debate a measure to strengthen protections against the sale of guns to people legally barred from owning them, gun advocates are complaining that the proposal could further drag out sales already delayed for months by a large backlog in state background checks.

The bill, sponsored by Del. Jon S. Cardin, a Baltimore County Democrat, would require that those background checks be completed before a weapon's sale, transfer or lease — regardless of how long that takes.

But dozens of gun owners and advocates signed up last week to testify against the bill before the House Judiciary Committee, which held a marathon hearing on gun legislation, saying legitimate gun purchases should not be blocked because of the state's own ineptitude at doing background checks.

Cardin proposed the bill after The Baltimore Sun reported that more than 200 guns had been sold to people who shouldn't have had them during an unprecedented surge in gun purchases, which occurred before Maryland's tough new gun law took effect last October.

One of those handguns was used in an armed carjacking, state police said..

Under current law, gun dealers may release guns to buyers after seven days even if no background check has been completed. Cardin has said he wants to close what he considered a "loophole" in the law..

State police received 128,630 applications to acquire guns last year, the vast majority before the Oct. 1 effective date of the Firearms Safety Act, which bars the sale of some semi-automatic assault-type weapons and imposes new training and fingerprinting requirements and fees on handgun purchases.

The volume of applications overwhelmed state police capabilities to do background checks, causing months-long delays and a backlog that peaked last fall at 60,000 checks. The backlog had been cut in half by January and as of last week stood at 10,140, with police still processing reviews from late September. Police have said they expect to eliminate the backlog by late spring.

Gun-rights advocates and even a few committee members bristled at Cardin's bill, saying it would punish legitimate gun buyers for a problem they contended was caused by the state police.

Vincent DeMarco, president of Marylanders to Prevent Gun Violence, suggested that there's really no need for Cardin's bill under the new gun law. "You've got to get fingerprinted and a license before you even go to a gun dealer," DeMarco said. "The backlogs are not going to happen anymore."

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