The Baltimore County Council is expected to vote Tuesday on County Executive Johnny Olszewski Jr.'s sweeping 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. Those shops and shows wouldn’t be able to have or sell firearms without the license.
The proposal would require gun shops to install an alarm system registered with the county, as well as a video system. They would have to install bollards or another physical barrier to prevent burglars from using a vehicle to enter the building.
The shops also would be required 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 have to have live security guard coverage when the show is closed.
The legislation drew nearly 50 people to a hearing last week. Eleven people spoke, most asking the council to approve the bill. Opponents included gun shop owners who said the bill would create a financial burden on their businesses.
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.
Republican Councilman Todd Crandell questioned why Olszewski didn’t push the bill among his priorities for the Maryland General Assembly’s 2020 legislative session. State 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 specified in the state law.
Meg Ferguson, a county police department attorney, said 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, said 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 security measures, Spafford said. But criminals will find a way around the bill, he said, adding that courts should impose tougher sentences on criminals.
Robert Warnick, a former county police officer 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 said he’d 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.
But 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 of her experience with gun violence. On a trip to New York City, she said, she was shot in the chest by 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.
Councilman David Marks, a Republican from Perry Hall, said he’s considering amendments. Marks wants to review the distance provision, and he wants more flexibility in the security requirements.
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Democrats hold a 4-3 majority on the council. 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. The county would provide a 6-month grace period for existing firearms dealers to comply with the new law.