Maryland Attorney General Brian E. Frosh and other officials urged more states Wednesday to adopt strict handgun purchasing laws, pointing to Johns Hopkins research that shows permit requirements are associated with reductions in gun deaths.
Frosh sent letters to his attorney general counterparts across the nation promoting permit-to-purchase laws. The former Democratic state senator played a key role in the passage of Maryland's 2013 Firearm Safety Act.
"We can only do so much," Frosh said at a news conference in Towson. "People can buy guns in our neighboring jurisdictions and bring them across the state lines illegally, and it adds to the violence and deaths that we experience in our state."
Frosh appeared at the Baltimore County Courthouse with Democratic Rep. Chris Van Hollen, County Executive Kevin Kamenetz and Police Chief Jim Johnson, as well as members of Marylanders to Prevent Gun Violence. Johnson has been a national advocate for tougher gun control, serving as chairman of the National Law Enforcement Partnership to Prevent Gun Violence
The 2013 Maryland law requires handgun buyers to get a license from state police and pass a fingerprint-based background check. Among other provisions, it banned the sale of assault weapons and magazines with more than 10 bullets. Then-Gov. Martin O'Malley sought the law after the 2012 massacre at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn.
In his letter to other attorneys general, Frosh wrote that "licensing laws are constitutional and enjoy popular support." He pointed to research from the Johns Hopkins Center for Gun Policy and Research, which has studied the effect of state permit-to-purchase laws.
The center examined data in Connecticut, which enacted a gun licensing law in 1995, and Missouri, which repealed a similar measure in 2007.
In Connecticut, gun-related homicides dropped 40 percent over the next decade, while non-firearm homicides remained unchanged, according to the researchers.
In Missouri, researchers found a 25 percent increase in firearm homicides and 14 percent increase in overall killings over the five years after that state's repeal of licensing and background check requirements.
Daniel Webster, director of the gun policy center, said there is not enough data to know the full effect of the 2013 Maryland law. Webster noted that "concentrated disadvantage" in Baltimore has been linked to violent crime.
"A piece of gun legislation won't undo all of that," Webster said. "But if we want to see change in places like Baltimore, if you want to see investment in Baltimore, you have to stop the bloodshed first. ... It is not technically a root cause, but if you're going address these root-cause situations, you must address the availability of guns that terrorize communities."
Amy Hunter, spokeswoman for the National Rifle Association's Institute for Legislative Action, said in an email that permit-to-purchase policies "are useless laws that do nothing to prevent crime."
"When these bills are passed, criminals simply continue doing what they've always done — getting their guns illegally," she said. "Meanwhile, honest, law-abiding Americans have more impediments to exercising their rights."
John Josselyn of the Associated Gun Clubs of Baltimore agreed. "Criminals don't obey the law," he said.
Gun rights advocates have sued the state over the 2013 law, arguing that the ban on assault weapons and high-capacity magazines was unconstitutional. A U.S. district judge has ruled in the state's favor, and an appeal is pending before the 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals.
Van Hollen, of Montgomery County, is the sponsor of federal legislation that would create a grant program to encourage states to enact purchase licensing requirements.
Van Hollen and Rep. Donna Edwards, a Prince George's County Democrat, are vying to replace Sen. Barbara Mikulski, who is retiring.
Edwards campaign spokesman Benjamin Gerdes said background checks are a good first step. "But until we have leaders willing to take on the NRA and the gun lobby, gun violence will continue to be a significant problem in Maryland and across the country," he said.