District 9B in bull's-eye for gun regulation group

The issue of gun regulation, which has already made news at the state level in the race for governor and locally in the Howard County executive campaign, has made its way to Ellicott City.

In District 9B, new mailers sponsored by a pro-gun-regulation group, Marylanders to Prevent Gun Violence, arrived in constituents' mailboxes Monday.


The card is printed on the front with an image that places its recipient in the perspective of a person staring down the barrel of a gun. Above the picture, in all caps, the mailer asks: "Which candidate for Maryland delegate is on your side?"

The back of the card focuses in on the two candidates for delegate in Howard County's newest district, 9B.


The text highlights Democratic candidate Tom Coale's support for the Firearm Safety Act of 2013, a bill requiring fingerprinting, a criminal background check and safety training for gun buyers; while criticizing Republican candidate Bob Flanagan for saying he would have opposed the law.

The legislation, which made Maryland's gun laws some of the toughest in the nation, also banned 45 different types of assault weapons, banned the sale of gun magazines with more than 10 bullets and gave police more authority to stop rogue gun dealers.

Neither candidate for the single-member district was a member of the General Assembly at the time of the vote. However, both filled out a Baltimore Sun questionnaire before the primary election that included a question about the Firearm Safety Act.

Both candidates kept their responses succinct: "yes," Coale wrote in support of the bill, while Flanagan wrote "no."

The mailer also points out that Flanagan has been endorsed by the National Rifle Association.

"I think this was an important law that moved Maryland forward," Coale said of his support for the Firearm Safety Act. "Bob wants to take us back."

Flanagan, meanwhile, brushed off the mailer's criticism, noting that he supports criminal background checks and a handgun licensing system, but is opposed to a provision in the law that requires safety training for people who are already familiar with how to use a gun.

"Like a lot of attack pieces, it's not accurate and it is misleading," Flanagan said of the card.

Coale said he didn't consider the mailer to be an attack on Flanagan.

"I think what I like about the mailer is that if you look at it, it's very straightforward. It says that I support this law and Bob Flanagan does not," he said. "I think voters have a right to be informed."

Vincent DeMarco, president of Marylanders to Prevent Gun Violence, said the group decided to send out mailers in 9B after polling showed that gun control was an important issue to voters there. Flanagan and Coale are in a tight race for the district, which is evenly split between Democrats and Republicans.

"I think the evidence is clear that it's a lifesaving measure," DeMarco said of the Firearm Safety Act, "and I think our polls show that it's also got very strong support. It's good policy and good politics to support this."


While Marylanders to Prevent Gun Violence does not endorse candidates, he said, "we're going to call on all candidates to support [the Firearm Safety Act, and we're going to let voters know who does and who doesn't."

The group commissioned a poll earlier this month that asked voters whether they were in favor of the Firearm Safety Act, described as a law "requiring a license to purchase a handgun in Maryland that would include a fingerprint, criminal background check and safety training."

A majority of the district's voters, 77 percent, said they supported the legislation, according to a summary of findings by polling service OpinionWorks.

When told that Coale "supported requiring a license to purchase a handgun while Bob Flanagan did not," the poll showed the Democrat got an 11-point boost, while Flanagan's support went down 26 percent. Without the gun issue, the results show Coale behind by four points.

Coale said he was "proud" to have supported the Firearm Safety Act before knowing how it would play to voters.

"I think both the poll and the research on the subject shows what we already knew, which is that Bob Flanagan is to the right of his own party on many issues that are important to voters in 9B," he said.

Flanagan said he was not opposed to all handgun licensing measures.

"There are certainly elements of our handgun licensing [system] that I support," he said, listing background check requirements and bans on selling guns to people with a record of domestic violence. "The people that I talk to who are genuinely concerned about gun violence, and I've listened to them carefully, they understand that certain people have a need to protect themselves and the use of guns to protect themselves, but they want gun laws to be sensibly enacted and sensibly administered."

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