A “semi-automatic machine gun.” That is what Maryland Attorney General Brian Frosh called some of the guns used by the Las Vegas shooter in his inflammatory commentary published by The Baltimore Sun (“Outlaw bump stocks? Yes, but don’t stop there,” Oct. 26). Yet, as Mr. Frosh well knows, there is no such animal. A gun cannot be both a semi-automatic and a machine gun. A machine gun is defined by federal law as a firearm that shoots more than one shot by a single function of the trigger. Maryland law is the same. With semi-auto firearms, the trigger is reset after each shot and must be pulled for each shot. Federal law and Maryland law already make it a serious felony to sell, possess, transport or transfer an unauthorized machine gun. The attorney general surely knows this, yet he misuses legal terms in a deceptive attempt to equate semi-auto firearms, which have been around since the early 1900s and are as common as rain, with machine guns which are strictly regulated by the government and are exceedingly rare in civilian hands. Make no mistake, Mr. Frosh wants to ban all semi-auto firearms.
The rest of Mr. Frosh’s oped fares no better. He claims that he does not wish to “endanger the Second Amendment rights of millions of lawful gun owners,” but he then advocates background checks, purchase limits and bans on so called “military-style assault weapons” and “large capacity magazines” as measures that would make gun deaths “almost entirely preventable.” Nonsense. What the attorney general does not tell his readers is that both federal law and Maryland law have long required background checks. Maryland is one of the few states that requires these background checks for private sales of handguns in addition to sales by dealers. Moreover, since 2013, Maryland has banned so called “assault weapons” and “large capacity magazines.”
Have these bans and Maryland’s multitude of other gun control laws “prevented” murders in Maryland? Not in the slightest. Maryland already has among the strictest gun control laws in the nation. Yet, according to FBI statistics, Maryland’s homicide rate far exceeds neighboring states like Virginia and Pennsylvania which impose no such bans. For example, from January to June in 2016, Baltimore, with a population of just over 621,000, had 154 murders, topping out at 318 murders for the year. The Baltimore Sun reports that Baltimore is posed to set even greater levels of violent crime in 2017, including murders, “with nearly 260 killings as of Sept. 23, a 13 percent increase over last year.” Yet, in the same January to June 2016 time period, Richmond, with a population of 452,797, had only 24 murders with 61 for the entire year. Similarly, Philadelphia, with a population 1,567,810 (much more than double that of Baltimore), had significantly fewer murders than Baltimore, coming in at 278 murders for the whole year. So much for gun control “preventing” homicides.
The reality is that guns are tools that can be used for good or for evil. Gun bans and regulations regulate and burden the law-abiding, but do little or nothing to deter criminals, who, by definition, do not care about gun laws. Criminals do care intensively about going to jail, but that consequence requires enforcement of existing laws. That enforcement is not happening. For example, long-standing Maryland law imposes a mandatory, minimum five-year prison term for possession of any handgun by a person previously convicted of a crime of violence or certain drug offenses. Yet Maryland prosecutors, particularly in Baltimore, seldom bring or prosecute to conviction these more serious charges and thus fail to remove these truly dangerous persons from the streets. Even misdemeanor illegal possession of guns is seldom punished. As the Sun has previously reported, “arrests in Baltimore for illegal guns often lead to dropped charges or little jail time.” Is it little wonder that Baltimore is awash in violence?
Meanwhile, the law-abiding citizens of Baltimore bear the brunt of violent crime and continue to be victimized because these folks are effectively precluded from purchasing handguns for self-defense in the home by Maryland’s complex and difficult gun control laws. They are also left defenseless on the streets by Maryland’s strict “may issue” carry permit laws that exclude almost all Maryland law-abiding citizens from obtaining carry permits for their own self-defense (unlike Virginia and Pennsylvania which are both “shall issue” carry permit states). Self-defense is important. The FBI’s Violence Policy Center has estimated that defensive gun use occurs 67,740 times a year nationwide. That’s almost 68,000 fewer victims every year and that’s the low estimate. Other academic studies suggest that such defensive use of guns might be as high as 2.5 million times a year or even higher. Whatever the number, defensive gun use is a positive social good. The life you save may be your own or that of your loved ones. As the Supreme Court of the United States held in its landmark District of Columbia v. Heller decision, the civil right of armed self-defense is the essence of the Second Amendment. The attorney general would be well advised to embrace the Second Amendment rather than pushing ineffective gun bans that only serve to ensnare and burden the law-abiding.
Mark W. Pennak, Annapolis
The writer is president of Maryland Shall Issue, Inc.
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