Gun owners blast away in protest of proposed new laws

Outspoken Del. Patrick L. McDonough outlined his plans for tough penalties for gun crimes as firearms owners gathered at a Bel Air shooting range as part of a national series of events to push back against proposed gun control measures.

"What I'm mad as hell about is they want to take our Second Amendment rights away, but they don't care about people who are really committing the crimes," McDonough said of people proposing new gun laws.


He was speaking at the Horst & McCann indoor gun range in Bel Air as part of a series of events dubbed "Gun Appreciation Day," by a Republican political consultant, and staged as a protest against new gun laws that President Barack Obama and governors including Martin O'Malley have proposed in the wake of the mass shooting at a Connecticut elementary school.

Addressing the crowd of about 40 people gathered in the range's parking lot, McDonough said he wants to impose stiff prison sentences for some gun crimes and require judges to dole out mandatory penalties. He also wants a register of people convicted of gun crimes published.

O'Malley has proposed a broader package that would ban the sale of certain assault weapons, require new licenses for gun owners and provide for better mental health treatment. A recent poll showed broad support for the measures.

McDonough, a Baltimore and Harford County Republican, spoke about the value of the Second Amendment, and Scott McCurley, the chief instructor at the range, gave people a chance to exercise it — many of them for the first time.

Inside the range's store, a stack of pizzas sat on one table and a pile of blue NRA membership applications on another. Over the pop, pop of gunfire, salespeople made their pitches to would-be gun owners.

In a separate room, people ages 9 to 75 fired inside the range. A young boy perforated a paper zombie, an elderly woman struggled with a huge revolver and a man demonstrated the laser sight on his pistol.

Eric McCall, 43, took the chance to school his daughter Erica, 15, in pulling the trigger — "It was awesome," she said — and the importance of protecting gun ownership rights.

Joel and Kari Schmidt from Fallston had hoped to put off talking to their two children about guns, but said they felt it was important after the shootings in Newtown. Her son, 11, and daughter, 9, both took a turn firing at a target.

"We want our kids to have a healthy respect for weapons and firearms," Kari Schmidt said, adding that she no longer lets her son play violent video games like the popular Call of Duty: Modern Warfare series.

Schmidt said she thinks background checks make sense to keep guns out of the hands of criminals and people with certain mental illnesses, but worries that the new laws will go too far.

"Don't take the guns away from the people who are proper owners," she said.

McCurley said business has been up since the election and doing well after gun control retook the center of the political stage this winter. He hoped his efforts Saturday would help to mold responsible gun owners. His team had been offering free safety lessons all day.

He seemed to have won some converts. As the McCalls got ready to leave, Eric McCall suggested that next time he take his daughter skeet shooting.

Her face lit up at the thought.