Activists, faith leaders rally for background checks on gun buyers

A bus tour that began in Newtown, Conn., on the six-month anniversary of the school shooting there came to Baltimore on Saturday where a small group of ministers, legislators and activists gathered to call on Congress to pass legislation to reduce gun violence.

"A child killed every three hours and 15 minutes is enough for me. And it is enough for many men and women across the country. When will it be enough for Congress?" said Jenifer Pauliukonis, the Maryland head of Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense in America. The Parkville woman, who is the mother of a preschooler, said even though her family has not lost anyone to gun violence she was drawn into the movement after the Newtown shooting.

Speaking on the steps of the Cathedral of the Incarnation in Baltimore, activists read aloud the names of each of the 11 children who have died because of gun violence in the city this year as well as the names of dozens of Maryland adults. They occasionally stopped to say "No More Names," the slogan of the bus tour, which is making stops in 25 states in 100 days. The bus tour was organized by the group Mayors Against Illegal Guns.

"I serve a community that is ravaged. We must do something to ease the bloodshed," said Bishop Douglas Miles of Koinonia Baptist Church.

State Sen. Brian Frosh and other activists want Congress to pass legislation that requires more complete background checks. And Miles said President Barack Obama should require any gun manufacturer to support background check legislation before they get business from the federal government.

"In Maryland we have a strong law that we think should be required throughout the United States," said state Sen. Nathaniel McFadden.

The national legislation supported by the groups would require background checks for all gun sales in commercial settings, including gun shows and the Internet.

This year, Maryland lawmakers banned the sale of assault-style weapons, limited the size of magazines to 10 bullets, and created a fingerprinting and licensing system for handgun purchasers.

Similar laws have been passed in New York, Massachusetts, New Jersey and Connecticut, where gun violence has decreased, said Frosh, who spoke at the rally. Ninety percent of the guns that kill people in New York City come from outside of the state, he said, while most guns that kill in Maryland come from within the state.

Gun sales have increased rapidly in Maryland in advance of the law's Oct. 1 effective date, and the state has been unable to keep up with the backlog of background checks. As of Sept. 6, the state had gotten 88,884 firearms purchase applications and 48,034 had been processed. The weekly average for applications in 2010 was 744. That figure has risen to 2,432 this year.

Gun dealers can release a gun to the purchaser after seven days, and dealers have released more than two dozen firearms to people who were barred from owning them because of their criminal records.

The crushing backlog prompted state police to draft a team of 25 to 40 state workers each day this weekend and on Monday to do data entry. The workers, who will not be doing the background checks, are from several different departments, including public safety, human resources and health and mental hygiene.

The effort to reduce the backlog with workers outside the state police, however, raised concerns by a gun-rights group that untrained civilians would view the personal information on the forms, including buyers' home addresses, full names and Social Security numbers.

"When a citizen fills out the form it is with the understanding it would be seen by the state police," said John Josselyn, legislative vice president for the Associated Gun Clubs of Baltimore. "This is an amazing and reckless disclosure of confidential information."

But the state police issued a statement saying that it had taken precautions to ensure that the information would not be mishandled, including having workers sign a confidentiality agreement and encrypting the information. Employees in the agencies handling the applications routinely handle sensitive personal information, the state police said in a statement.

Baltimore Sun reporter Erin Cox contributed to this article.

Copyright © 2020, The Baltimore Sun, a Baltimore Sun Media Group publication | Place an Ad