Hogan's embrace of gun control: genuine conviction or political ploy? Who cares?

Gov. Larry Hogan has never been what you would call a champion of gun control. As a candidate, he opposed Maryland’s landmark 2013 gun control legislation, which included a ban on assault weapons. He won the endorsement of the NRA and an A- rating from the group based on his responses to a questionnaire he filled out during the Republican primary — a document he refused to release despite significant pressure. The Washington Post reported at the time that he privately assured gun rights advocates that he would make it easier to get concealed-carry permits if he was elected, and though he disputed that, he has subsequently appointed pro-gun members to the board that handles appeals of permit denials. He said during the 2014 campaign that he supported background checks and efforts to keep guns out of the hands of criminals and the mentally ill, but he hasn’t taken any steps to foster that goal.True to his word, he hasn’t tried to repeal Maryland’s gun laws, but he hasn’t been terribly enthusiastic about them either, saying they did nothing to prevent last year’s record bloodshed in Baltimore. Even as he said he would be willing to consider a ban on bump stocks, the devices that effectively turn semi-automatic assault weapons into fully automatic rifles, he told the Frederick News-Post that it didn’t much matter: “I don’t think anyone in the history of our state has ever been killed with a bump stock.”

It’s no wonder, then, that some of Mr. Hogan’s Democratic opponents were taken aback Wednesday when Mr. Hogan announced his support for at least two major pieces of NRA-opposed legislation to take guns away from people who might pose a danger. Baltimore County Executive Kevin Kamenetz, who is seeking the Democratic nomination for governor, tweeted that Maryland’s strong gun control laws are “despite you, not because of you.” And Sen. Richard S. Madaleno, another Democratic candidate and a leading voice for gun control in the General Assembly, tweeted that Mr. Hogan was a latecomer to the issue: “Unfortunately we have a Governor that waits a few weeks to check which way the political winds blow, and then takes credit for the hard work my General Assembly colleagues and I have put into crafting life-saving legislation.”

Indeed, Governor Hogan is once again jumping on a train that’s already leaving the station, as he has done on any number of Democratic proposals from paid sick leave to creating an education lockbox for casino revenue. It’s no wonder that his critics see his embrace of an issue that’s extremely popular with Maryland voters as cynical election-year positioning. As it relates to his proposal Wednesday to pump $125 million into school security upgrades and another $50 million a year into school safety grants, that actually gives us some concern. Lawmakers need to think carefully about the effectiveness of such spending and the opportunity costs it poses. But as for whether Mr. Hogan is motivated by politics or genuine conviction to embrace a “red flag” law to take guns from people judged a danger to themselves or others and a proposal to tighten Maryland’s procedures for taking guns from domestic abusers, we could care less. Both of those proposals are necessary, and neither is a sure thing, even after the Parkland, Fla., school shooting. Moreover, the support of a Republican governor could help these ideas to gain traction elsewhere.

It’s at least arguable that a “red flag” law could have stopped accused Parkland killer Nikolas Cruz. Among the many warning signs that authorities failed to heed was a 911 call from a member of the family who took him in after his mother died in which she said Mr. Cruz had been fighting with her son, that he had “a lot of weapons” and that “it’s not the first time he put a gun on somebody’s head.” The legislation proposed by Del. Geraldine Valentino-Smith, a Prince George’s County Democrat, to allow courts to order the surrender of firearms by those found to be a danger to themselves or others might certainly have applied there. Howard County Democratic Del. Vanessa E. Atterbeary’s bill establishing procedures to make sure perpetrators of domestic violence surrender their guns might not have applied in that case, but it quite possibly could have in the recent murder of Prince George’s County Police Cpl. Mujahid Ramzziddin, who was trying while off duty to aid a neighbor who had said she feared that her estranged husband might hurt her. The man, Glenn Tyndell, had been ordered to surrender his guns at least three times but never did so. Police say he shot Ramzzidin five times with a shotgun before later being killed in a confrontation with other officers.

If Governor Hogan’s endorsement persuades Republicans and conservative Democrats to sign on to those bills, we welcome it. If it opens space for Republican governors in other states to take similar stances, so much the better.

There is one other important piece of gun legislation this year that Mr. Hogan is extremely unlikely to support: Senator Madaleno’s bill abolishing the Handgun Permit Review Board and instead putting the authority to hear appeals of denied concealed-carry licenses in the hands of administrative law judges. Mr. Hogan disputes the notion that his appointees have been more permissive than previous board members, and he tends to closely guard against what he sees as Democratic encroachments on executive power. But this idea is a good one no matter who the governor is because it provides for greater continuity and consistency from one administration to the next. The legislation passed the Senate last year, and this year it appears to have traction in the House. We hope the General Assembly will pass it early enough in this legislative session to attempt an override should Mr. Hogan veto it.

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