Harford County Council condemns state gun law

The Harford County Council passed a resolution Tuesday, by a 6-1 vote, criticizing the state's new gun safety bill.

The resolution says the Firearms Safety Act, which bans the sale of 45 kinds of rifles and magazines and requires "law-abiding citizens" to submit fees, background checks and training, contains sections which "may be" unconstitutional.


The bill recommends county government further analyze the bill to ensure it does not violate citizen rights.

The resolution is sponsored by Council members Dion Guthrie, Joe Woods and Dick Slutzky. Guthrie is a Democrat, while Slutzky and Woods are Republicans. Woods also owns a store in Bel Air that sells weapons.


The resolution clarifies it would not negate provisions of new gun laws that would ban weapon use by felons and those with a history of mental illness, or those that require "reasonable safety training."

Guthrie said the Cecil County Council recently passed a similar resolution.

"It's getting to the point that the state of Maryland keeps shoving all these changes on the county and keeps shoving all these unfunded mandates, it's time the county stands on its own two feet and stops accepting [it]," he said, noting there is nevertheless no money involved in the state bill.

Sheriff Jesse Bane said the resolution would not cause any hardship for the Harford County Sheriff's Office, Guthrie said.

Woods said he is very proud to be part of this resolution.

"It's a small message that we're sending but it's one of great importance," he said, adding it was "so sad" the majority of state legislators did not even want to listen when he talked to them about the bill.

Woods noted he does agree with parts of the state bill, such as allowing law enforcement officers to own high-capacity magazines.

He also noted he was happy to see Guthrie on board, to which Guthrie replied: "My wife just bought one of your guns."

Slutzky said he rarely tries to respond emotionally and after "dozens and dozens of hours" on the U.N. site for crime and drugs and analyzing FBI crime statistics for the past 30 years, he realized the public has the impression that violent crime has been increasing exponentially.

The homicide rate in the U.S., however, has gone down by 40 to 50 percent, Slutzky said, while the sale of firearms has increased "exponentially" since the 2004 assault weapon ban was removed.

Crimes besides homicide with firearms, Slutzky said, have gone down 60 percent in the U.S.

"We are actually arguably the second safest country in the Western hemisphere for crimes with firearms," Slutzky said.


He said Johns Hopkins University's studies on the subject have been biased because the university's Bloomberg School of Public Health has been heavily funded by Michael Bloomberg, the Mayor of New York City, who has been promoting anti-gun violence.

After reading Slutzky's comments on line, Daniel Webster, a professor and the director of the Johns Hopkins Center for Gun Policy and Research, said Slutzky was wrong.

"I direct the Johns Hopkins Center for Gun Policy and Research, and have been conducting research on gun policy for the past 23 years. Over this time, I have led numerous studies related to gun violence and published the results in 78 articles in scientific journals," Webster wrote in a letter to the editor that appears in its entirety on Page A8. "Those journals require that articles be independently reviewed and vetted by other experts in the field before accepting them for publication...The principle of academic freedom is one of the standards of responsible conduct of research I follow as a faculty member of Johns Hopkins University. This stipulates that the design, conduct and reporting of research must be independent of potential influence or biases from the funding source. Mayor Bloomberg does not dictate, oversee or vet my research, nor has he ever attempted to influence anything that I write or say pertaining to gun policy."

He called Slutzky's comments a "distraction."

"Questioning the objectivity of the University's research on guns is a distraction from the hard evidence that opponents of stronger gun laws would prefer to ignore," Webster wrote. "Some gun laws do make us safer."

Councilwoman Mary Ann Lisanti said she respects the councilmen's strong opinions but is concerned the resolution just came up this evening and wondered what the rush was to introduce it, "given the very …emotional, very difficult, very complex nature of this issue in totality."

She also questioned the goal of the resolution, to which Woods replied other counties are working on similar bills, saying they do not agree with the state bill.

"If enough counties do agree, the hope across the state is the state will look at it again and say, 'Maybe we did overstep our grounds,'" Woods said. "I feel it's important for all of us that we stand up for our rights."

Guthrie replied he and Woods had been discussing the issue all day long and also had good timing with Cecil County's resolution.

Cecil urged Harford to join on the resolution, he said.

"How far are we going to let the state go?" Guthrie asked.

Council President Billy Boniface said he discussed with the attorney and pointed out the resolution is non-binding and is the opinion of the council.

Woods said he heard from a number of people who wanted a resolution like this because they felt their rights were being violated.

Lisanti voted against the resolution, saying it is "below us" to jump on a "bandwagon" issue at the last minute "to grab a headline, frankly." She also said it was "a very serious charge" to accuse legislators of violating the Constitution based only on a personal, not a legal opinion, to which Guthrie replied that "legislators are not God."

Boniface said the language in the Cecil resolution was "a little inflammatory, at best" and thought Harford found a good compromise.

He added it is "ludicrous" to let a citizen walk out of a gun store without any training and thinks more safety controls are needed to prevent, for example, children being accidentally killed by a parent's gun in the house.

One resident, Gary Johnson, of Kingsville, suggested the purpose of the bill is "vigilance," as proposed by Thomas Jefferson.

He also said the state act violates the second, fourth, ninth, 10th and 14th amendments and suggested the council refuse to enforce the bill in Harford County and threaten to arrest any state agent who tries to enforce it.

"Locally, our local officials have become our last line of defense against perverted and overreaching government," he told the council. "When you see our rights being abused, that's the time to act."

"This pretended legislation violates the clear wording of the Constitution," Johnson said.

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