xml:space="preserve">
xml:space="preserve">
Advertisement
Advertisement

Baltimore County Council hears arguments about gun shop security bill

Nearly 50 people gathered Tuesday to share their thoughts on Baltimore County Executive Johnny Olszewski Jr.'s proposal to require more security at gun shops and gun shows.

The bill, known as the Secure All Firearms Effectively, or SAFE, Act would create a new license for firearm stores and temporary gun shows in the county if approved. Those shops and shows wouldn’t be able to have or sell firearms without the license.

Advertisement

Eleven people spoke at the meeting, with a majority asking council to approve the bill on Jan. 21. The opponents were mostly gun shop owners and pro-gun organizations. Shop owners are worried the bill creates a “financial burden” on their businesses, Republican County Councilmen Todd Crandell said.

The bill would require gun shops and shows to install an alarm system registered with the county and a video system. Shops also would have to install bollards or another physical barrier to prevent burglars from using a vehicle to enter the building.

Advertisement

The bill would require shops to install security gates or screens over windows and doors. Weapons would have to be locked in a safe and secure room when the business is closed, or the police chief could approve the use of a security guard. Temporary gun shows would require live security guard coverage when the show is closed.

Olszewski, a Democrat, has cited a spate of burglaries in recent years as motivation for the bill. Seven gun shops in the county were burglarized a total of 10 times in 2018 and 2019. Burglars stole firearms in four of those burglaries, including 51 weapons in one incident.

Crandell questioned why Olszewski didn’t push the bill among his priorities for the Maryland General Assembly’s 2020 legislative session. Statewide and federal lawmakers should be considering this legislation instead of the county, Crandell said.

Maryland’s local governments have little control over regulating firearms because state law “preempts the right of any local jurisdiction to regulate the sale of a regulated firearm.” Olszewski’s bill would apply only to shops within 100 yards of a “place of public assembly,” an exception in the state law.

Meg Ferguson, a county police department’s attorney, told council all but one of the county’s 19 firearm shops are located near a public assembly.

Charles Spafford, owner of the Tyler Firearms shop in Halethorpe, told council his shop was burglarized last January. Keeping firearms away from criminals is an “utmost priority,” he said, but he opposed the bill.

Most of the gun shops “already exceed” the bill’s measures, Spafford said. But criminals will find a way around the bill, he said, so he said the county courts should enact tougher sentences on criminals.

“I’ve heard a lot about the costs, and I understand it could be pressing to a small business owner, but my medical costs that night amounted to $100,000."


Share quote & link

Robert Warnick, a former county cop and owner of The Gun Shop and Fishing Tackle store in Essex, said his store was previously burglarized. A total value of $37,000 in firearms was taken from him, but he told council the bill would cost him $50,000 in renovations. He would have to spend more hours at the shop to store his 1,000 firearms, and he’d have to lay off four people.

“It’s the government’s job to encourage and protect small businesses, not to force their closure with legislation,"FreeState Gun Range co-owner Mark Burger said.

Republican councilmen also questioned the fees to apply for and renew the annual license , according to the 13-page bill. Those fees would be set by the program’s administrator.

Even so, County Sheriff Jay Fisher called the bill a “straightforward public safety solution to keep guns off our streets.” Andrea Koller, a Towson resident and member of Moms Demand Action, told council about her firsthand experience with gun violence. Her assailant was a convicted felon using a stolen firearm.

“I’ve heard a lot about the costs, and I understand it could be pressing to a small business owner, but my medical costs that night amounted to $100,000,” she said.

Advertisement

Councilman David Marks of Perry Hall said he’s considering amendments. Marks wants to review the distance requirement, and he wants more flexibility in the security requirements. Democrats hold a 4-3 majority on council.

The bill would take effect 45 days from its enactment. The county would provide a 6-month grace period for existing firearms dealers to comply with the new law. County Council Chair Cathy Bevins, a Middle River Democrat, said the county should consider some form of financial assistance for shops if the bill is approved.

Recommended on Baltimore Sun

Advertisement
Advertisement