BALTIMORE, MD -- 6/19/15 -- U.S. Rep. Donna Edwards speaks at the first Rural Maryland Democratic Summit in Frederick on Saturday. Edwards and fellow U.S. Senate candidate Rep. Chris Van Hollen participated in a forum as part of the day-long summit. Both Edwards and Van Hollen emphasized that they can represent the interests of conservative-leaning voters in rural counties. md-rural-democrats-edwards Pamela Wood/Baltimore Sun staff #5812
BALTIMORE, MD -- 6/19/15 -- U.S. Rep. Donna Edwards speaks at the first Rural Maryland Democratic Summit in Frederick on Saturday. Edwards and fellow U.S. Senate candidate Rep. Chris Van Hollen participated in a forum as part of the day-long summit. Both Edwards and Van Hollen emphasized that they can represent the interests of conservative-leaning voters in rural counties. md-rural-democrats-edwards Pamela Wood/Baltimore Sun staff #5812 (Pamela Wood / Baltimore Sun)

Federal gun control has emerged as an issue in Maryland's Senate contest, with the two Democratic candidates pushing a series of proposals after last month's massacre at a South Carolina church.

Rep. Donna F. Edwards called for a sweeping overhaul of federal gun laws in an opinion piece in The Baltimore Sun. The Prince George's County lawmaker says she supports a ban on assault weapons and a prohibition on domestic abusers purchasing firearms.

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The latest addition to Edwards' platform comes after her opponent, Rep. Chris Van Hollen, introduced a bill to toughen handgun licensing requirements and make it harder for people to buy firearms from private dealers and at gun shows.

None of the proposals are likely to advance in the Republican-controlled Congress. Nonetheless, the candidates and other Democrats are trying to resurrect long-stalled gun control legislation after nine people were killed in the Charleston church shooting on June 17.

Both lawmakers attended the funeral of the Rev. Clementa Pinckney, one of those killed in the shooting.

"We still have to close some gaps," Edwards said in an interview on Tuesday. "Even in the face of strong laws in Maryland, if we don't have that type of strength across the country, it makes it really difficult."

Edwards and Van Hollen are running to replace Sen. Barbara A. Mikulski, a Democrat who is retiring in 2017. No other Democrats have said they are running, and no Republican has formally entered the contest.

Gun control may have particular resonance as a political issue in Baltimore, where shootings and homicides involving guns are up 77 percent over last year, police data show. There were 387 shootings in the city through June 27, up from 219 last year.

"They should discuss it because one of the problems is that Marylanders and many Americans don't believe that these laws work," said Vincent DeMarco, president of Marylanders to Prevent Gun Violence, and a longtime advocate on the issue. "They need to help get that message out, and I would encourage them to talk constantly."

Though his organization does not endorse political candidates, DeMarco is personally supporting Van Hollen. He repeatedly stressed the importance of the lawmaker's licensing bill.

That measure, introduced a week before the Charleston shooting, would create a federal grant program to help states establish requirements that buyers have permits for all handguns, including those bought at gun shows.

Maryland approved similar requirements in 2013.

Van Hollen cited that proposal as well as his successful effort 15 years ago to pass a state trigger lock law when he was serving in the state General Assembly as evidence of his record on the issue.

"Reducing gun violence requires effective leadership," Van Hollen said in a statement. "We need to also address underlying social and economic issues to lift up cities like Baltimore."

Some federal lawmakers have discussed taking another run at gun legislation, particularly a requirement for stronger background checks before guns are purchased. Family and friends of some of those killed at the Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church are expected to speak Wednesday on Capitol Hill alongside Democratic leaders to call for "commonsense gun laws."

But even those who support reviving the measures acknowledge the long odds.

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Two senators who led a bipartisan but unsuccessful push to strengthen background checks after the 2012 shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn., have said it might be time to revisit the issue. But the lawmakers, Sens. Joe Manchin, a West Virginia Democrat, and Pat Toomey, a Pennsylvania Republican, have noted that there's little guarantee of success.

In her opinion article, Edwards noted the violence that took place in Charleston and wrote that "we need more than another moment of silence." She specifically called out the National Rifle Association, arguing that the national gun lobby was stoking "fear and violence in our communities."

"We have to take on the NRA with the force of a nation under siege and the passion of a people committed to ridding our country of a dangerous and deadly gun epidemic," she wrote.

On the substance of the issue, there is little difference between Edwards and Van Hollen. Both have co-sponsored a bevy of bills that would strengthen federal gun laws, including a ban on high-capacity magazines and a prohibition on the Internet sale of ammunition. Edwards did not co-sponsor the leading assault weapons ban bill in the last Congress, though she has frequently supported the ban in public statements.

Both have criticized the NRA.

NRA spokeswoman Amy Hunter responded by noting that Republican Gov. Larry Hogan had the group's endorsement last year. She also noted that his campaign was successful despite the state's Democratic leanings and Democratic nominee Anthony G. Brown's criticism of Hogan's stance on gun control.

"What gun control proponents consistently miss is that Americans don't want more gun control," Hunter said. "Poll after poll shows this, as do elections — the ultimate poll."

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