Future uncertain for gun shop owners in Maryland

With a bill imminent for the governor to sign which will narrow the definition of an assault weapon and require more stringent background checks, gun shop owners are experiencing high sales and waiting for what could happen to their shops come October.

Ever since a school shooting which killed 20 children and six adults in Newtown, Conn., in December, sales have been consistently high, said Tim Brown, the owner of the Mount Airy Gun Shack. When news broke that the assault weapons ban passed the state legislature April 4, sales did not change in any way, he and other gun shop owners in Carroll said.

"As soon as they started chattering about gun laws, sales typically got up," Brown said. "It's stayed steady ever since."

In early January, manufacturers of the Bushmaster, the gun used in the Sandy Hook shootings, estimated a 2½-year backlog, Brown said. Distributors have been able to get a hold of them though, he said, so he's been able to stock them when he can.

Forty-five different types of guns are listed on the assault weapons ban, which includes assault long guns, copycat weapons and some types of semi-automatic guns. Because there isn't a set stocked list at his store, Brown said it's possible that potentially all of the guns listed on the bill could have been at the Gun Shack.

Brandi Bollinger, the co-owner of Bollinger Gunsmithing in Taneytown, said the store, which focuses on custom work, both builds guns and also alters guns, like painting or refinishing an item, she said. The law won't change how the store does custom work on the gun, she said, but it could change how the store builds guns.

If a Maryland resident would like the store to build one of the 45 guns listed on the assault-weapons ban, Bollinger said they would no longer be able to do it. The store can still build a gun that is not banned in another state for out-of-state residents though, she said. Until then, Bollinger is focusing on making sure gun enthusiasts are buying guns that are appropriate for their use, she said.

"We're trying to discourage panic buying and encourage educated, safe, decision making when it comes to purchasing guns," Bollinger said.

The store focuses on the labor end of guns more so than sales, she said. The customized guns will likely not be among the banned items, or considered "copycats," meaning guns that are similar to the listed banned brands and guns.

Gun rights groups are trying to protest the ban.

Del. Neil Parrott, R-District 2B in Washington County, helped to organize Maryland-based gun rights groups such as the Association of Gun Clubs Baltimore, with the National Rifle Association in a meeting for next steps. Parrott is the founder of mdpetitions.com, which helped organize the referendums for the 2012 elections to overturn same-sex marriage, redistricting and the Maryland DREAM Act.

The NRA intends to take the overarching bill - which includes all Maryland gun-related legislation from fingerprinting to the assault weapons ban - to the higher courts, Parrott said.

Parrott said the choice to go to court is because a license for gun owners is unconstitutional. It's like a poll tax, he said, something that violates the inalienable rights of the Constitution.

Once the governor signs the bill, the NRA will file a lawsuit, he said.

"What we're hoping happens is when a lawsuit is launched, there's a stay in the bill so it cannot take effect," Parrott said.

While national legislation for a gun-related bill failed in the Senate Wednesday, Bradley Vosburgh, the owner of Brownstone Trading Company in Westminster, said sales have been through the roof due to the national attention on guns. Historically, when Maryland passes gun-related laws, he doesn't see a huge jump, but the national spotlight has people scared.

"It's going to keep me very busy until Oct. 1," Vosburgh said.



licensing laws confusing, dealers say

Changes in background checks and licensing for new gun owners are also confusing, Brown said. The process that is supposed to take seven or eight days is taking about two months, he said.

Elena Russo, the media spokesperson for the Maryland State Police, said the average time as of February was about six weeks. Since December, 60 personnel have been reorganized to work on background checks 21 hours a day, seven days a week, she said. That's triple the size of the regular licensing division, she said.

In December and January, there were approximately 26,000 purchase applications. About 17,500 of those applications had been processed by Feb. 6, she said. In 2010, there were 28,000 applications for the entire year, she said.

"At this time we're receiving about 450 purchase applications a day," she said. "We added more computer terminals, we're literally using every inch of space available in that licensing division."

The new law does not allow a person to buy a rifle or shotgun if the person has been convicted of a disqualifying crime, a common law crime and was imprisoned for more than two years, is a fugitive from justice, a habitual drunkard, is addicted to drugs, suffers from a mental disorder or has a history of violent behavior, has been found incompetent to stand trial in a previous case, has voluntarily admitted oneself for more than 30 days to a mental health facility, or has been admitted as a result of an emergency evaluation, or involuntarily committed, according to the fiscal and note attached with the bill.

Dealers like Brown, of the Mount Airy Gun Shack, must submit applications that include a photograph, a set of fingerprints and a statement that the applicant has never participated in any of the disqualifying activities listed above, according to the fiscal and policy note.

For shop owners like Brown, he said there will eventually be a training program on fingerprinting, and a possible seminar the store will attend to train people for more stringent background checks.

"We're trying to figure out exactly how it's going to affect us," he said.