1:30 PM EST, January 4, 2013
The horrific tragedy in Connecticut has triggered a justifiable groundswell of support for a ban on semi-automatic weapons. I fully agree with such a ban. As a state senator, I was the chief sponsor and floor leader of the ban on semi-automatic pistols in 1992. That legislation named 23 specific weapons. The gun industry has renamed and refitted semi-automatic weapons to circumvent this law and similar laws in other states.
Legislators in Maryland appear to be on the verge of enacting a ban that would capture all semi-automatic weapons. They should do so swiftly. However, the ban would fail to directly address what occurred at Perry Hall High School and the horrible incident in Newtown, Conn. The state must punish adults who store or leave such weapons within the reach of minors or adults with a diagnosed mental disability or propensity for violence.
Maryland has a statute that punishes an adult who stores or leaves a firearm in a location where the adult knew or should have known the minor could gain access to it. I was the chief sponsor and floor leader of that bill as well.
It's difficult to believe, but the gun lobby was strongly opposed to the "access" legislation and was able to weaken the bill to appease the committee chairman who was also opposed to the bill. In order to get the bill out of committee, amendments were adopted that took much of the strength out of the legislation. The existing treats the offense as a misdemeanor and includes a fine no more severe than a $500 fine.
The current law is ineffective to deal with today's environment. Legislation needs to be introduced that would bifurcate the statute to add a more serious second degree offense.
Under a second degree offense, an adult would violate the proposed law if he or she stored or left the firearm in a location where the adult knew or should have known that the minor or adult with a mental disability or a known propensity for violence could have gained access to the firearm and used the firearm to kill or cause serious physical injury.
An individual convicted of a second degree offense would be subject to up five years in prison and guilty of a felony. The circumstances would be evaluated by a prosecutor's office. The facts would be determined by a jury and sentence delivered by a judge.
People lock up gold coins, stock and bond certificates, and cash. They should lock up dangerous firearms too. These weapons are meant to indiscriminately spray deadly bullets. They're tailor-made for death and have no legitimate sporting or hunting value. The individual who leaves a semi-automatic weapon within access of a minor or mentally impaired individual should bear responsibility for any injury or death caused by the person who gains access to the weapon.
John A. Pica Jr., Baltimore
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