Arundel councilman fights to roll back gun sale reporting

He owns a .40-caliber pistol, is a member of the National Rifle Association and the rural district he represents as a member of the Anne Arundel County Council is home to scores of hunters.

With all that in mind, Councilman Jerry Walker is adamant about amending a recently passed county law in order to exempt licensed secondhand firearms dealers from having to report their acquisitions to Anne Arundel police.

The county requirement is duplicative, said Walker, because state law requires gun dealers across Maryland to document all transactions — though the state police are only required to audit the information every three years. The county law, similar to other nearby jurisdictions', including Baltimore's, requires local law enforcement to examine the information on a daily basis.

"They're being singled out," Walker, a Republican who represents South County, said of the secondhand stores. "I'm pro-Second Amendment. I'm concerned about big government having data they don't need. And the impact it's going to have on small business."

County Executive John R. Leopold and other officials oppose the change, arguing that it could make the county more attractive to thieves who sell stolen firearms. The County Council is scheduled to vote on the measure this month — perhaps as soon as Monday — though many members of the council say they are undecided.

Last summer, the County Council passed the law requiring retailers — including gun stores — to report information about sellers and the acquired merchandise to the police within 24 hours. The bill was proposed in an effort to close what advocates called a loophole allowing thieves to bypass heavily regulated pawnshops and sell stolen goods to stores that buy and sell secondhand electronics and other items.

The retailers also have to wait 30 days before selling the item and pay a $250 annual fee, and an additional $50 for each employee compiling the information.

Leopold, a Republican, said the existing law provides "needed protection" and any changes would undercut its effectiveness.

"We want to do all that we can to protect public safety and do all that we can to return stolen guns to their rightful owners," said Leopold. "You don't want to set up two different standards — one for pawnshops and one for other secondhand dealers."

Already, Maryland has some of the strictest gun control laws in the country, including an eight-day waiting period for anyone seeking to buy an automatic weapon or handgun. The new regulation — already law in surrounding jurisdictions, including Baltimore City and Baltimore, Howard, Prince George's and Montgomery counties — requires any secondhand retailer to enter detailed information on acquired items into an electronic police database, making the information almost instantaneously accessible to law enforcement.

Robert Scarf, owner of Scott's Gunsmithing in Glen Burnie, said the regulation is equivalent to taxing his business, which he's owned for 11 years.

"The county's broke," said Scarf. "Instead of saying, 'We're going to raise taxes,' they're picking on small businesses and raising all kinds of fees. They want me to pay and do the work for them."

Federal law mandates that gun stores keep an "acquisition and disposition book" tracking all guns that enter and leave a retailer, while state law similarly requires gun dealers to detail transactions through a written form. Though the state is only required to audit the information every three years, the goal, according to state police spokeswoman Elena Russo, is for auditors to review the information every year.

"When we go into these stores, we make sure that every regulated firearm has left the premises with the appropriate paperwork," said Russo, who added that the state police have just two auditors assigned to that task..

In 2008, the Baltimore City Council passed legislation requiring pawnshops and secondhand dealers to report transactions electronically to the city police, who cite the program as a major success.

"We are huge proponents of the electronic reporting," said Anthony Guglielmi, a spokesman for the Baltimore Police Department. "It helps us investigate cases, is a tool for better prosecution, and helps us most importantly, reunite people with their stolen items."

Maj. Edward P. Bergin, commander of the Anne Arundel police department's Special Services Bureau, said the intent of the law is to return stolen items to their owners — as is done with electronics — not create more gun control regulations.

Last year, 108 guns were reported stolen as a result of burglary and thefts in Anne Arundel. Nineteen guns were recovered from the county's three licensed pawnbrokers, which are already required to report information on acquired items.

"It's because they were required to notify law enforcement," said Bergin. "That's how effective the law is. If we get one stolen gun back to a property owner, that's a victory."

Walker, who was elected to the council after the initial law was passed, said he vows to attempt to repeal the entire law.

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