The vendor table occupied by Maryland Shall Issue, an advocacy group that works to support Marylanders who want to own and carry firearms, was covered with pamphlets, pencils, stickers, magnets and wristbands emphasizing its slogan that “self defense is a civil right.”
Among the items decrying state gun laws MSI considers burdensome and restrictive, was a coloring book titled “Don’t Play With Guns,” promoting gun safety for children. Promoting gun safety and responsible handling of firearms are also part of the group’s mission.
Maryland Shall Issue was one of about 50 vendors that participated in the 59th annual Bel Air Gun Show, which happened Friday, Saturday and Sunday at the Bel Air Armory in the downtown district of the Harford County seat.
About 2,000 people attended over three days, according to organizers. The show is an annual fundraiser for the Harford County chapter of the Izaak Walton League of America conservation organization. Proceeds benefit the chapter’s annual scholarship program and its local conservation and water quality monitoring projects.
Pat Blake, a volunteer with MSI, talked with Bel Air resident Jason Miller late Saturday afternoon about Miller’s interest in obtaining a state-issued wear and carry permit, which allows the permit holder to carry a firearm on their person in public.
Miller, who later said he possesses a state-issued handgun qualification license that allows him to own a handgun but not wear or carry it in public, also discussed handgun permit regulations with Blake — the latter described the provisions of handgun qualification license regulations, such as application and training fees, as “a barrier to a Constitutional right.”
Maryland Shall Issue has expressed opposition to HQL requirements, which include a fingerprint check and completing at least four hours of training. There is a $50 fee for a first-time applicant, not including any fees for fingerprinting, and a $20 fee to renew a permit, according to a Maryland State Police web page. A person must have a valid license to “purchase, rent, or receive” a handgun, in accordance with the Maryland Firearm Safety Act of 2013, according to the State Police page.
Those regulations, in addition to the estimated $100 in training costs and the seven-day waiting period required before obtaining a purchased handgun, are described as “an egregious violation of your civil rights” in an MSI pamphlet provided during the Bel Air show.
Miller, who owns a construction company, said he wants to obtain a wear and carry permit so he can carry a gun for personal protection. He cited situations that could be dangerous for him, such as terminating an employee, noting that “you just never know.”
Miller compared getting a wear and carry permit in Maryland to finding a unicorn, though. The state requires applicants have “a good and substantial reason” to carry a firearm “such as finding that the permit is necessary as a reasonable precaution against danger,” according to a State Police web page on the permits.
“We have a lot of people talking with us about getting the wear and carry permit,” said Blake, the MSI volunteer. He noted some of those people include those who live in Pennsylvania but do business on both sides of the Mason-Dixon Line.
Blake, who lives in Southern Maryland, travels to a number of gun shows, although this year was his first at the Bel Air Gun Show.
“I like the smaller, more intimate shows, and I’m looking forward to visiting here again,” he said.
Multiple visitor options
Gun Show visitors could browse and purchase handguns, shotguns, hunting rifles, semiautomatic rifles, antique firearms, plus knives, hunting accessories, even purses designed to carry a concealed firearm.
The entry fee was $10, although children 14 and under were admitted free. Proceeds support The Izaak Walton League Harford County chapter’s scholarship program, through which five high school seniors can each earn a $1,000 scholarship to study environmental science in college. Any money available beyond the $5,000 scholarship program is used for conservation and water quality projects, according to chapter president Mike Horsmon.
“Things went very well this year, sales of all items were strong,” Horsmon wrote in an email Monday morning. “The chapter is well positioned to award our scholarships and continue with our planned conservation and community outreach projects in the coming year.”
Visitors interviewed by The Aegis Saturday cited a number of reasons why they own firearms or were interested in purchasing one at the show, not just self defense. Visitors also wanted firearms for hunting or target shooting.
“We like to support local businesses, and most of the people are local,” Fallston resident Stephanie Raynor said of the show’s vendors.
She attended the show with her husband, Shane, who checked out the handguns on display at the table operated by Jack’s Gun Works, of Havre de Grace. Her sons, Nathan, 12, and Logan, 9, also accompanied her.
Jack Mortimer, owner of Jack’s Gun Works, said he has been a Bel Air Gun Show vendor for many years, going back to when the show was held at American Legion Post 39 on North Hickory Avenue.
Mortimer said the show is good for selling firearms during the event, attracting customers who need guns repaired and increasing public awareness of his business.
“It’s always a good show here,” he said.
Gun safety for children
“Criminals don’t typically go through the correct channels to obtain the guns so it’s not stopping them,” Raynor said when asked her thoughts on the state’s gun laws. “We’re law-abiding citizens; we have permits to buy guns.”
Raynor said her son, Nathan, has passed his hunter safety courses, and Logan is scheduled to take his classes this summer. She said she wants her children to understand how to handle guns safely, especially if they are visiting a friend whose family keeps firearms at home, and then her sons can take the lead and ensure their friends do not misuse the weapons.
“I feel like the more educated you are, the safer you’re going to be,” Raynor said.
Nathan, who has been hunting since age 7, agreed, noting that a gun is “not anything to play with — they can seriously hurt somebody.”
Abingdon resident Jon Crespo visited with friend Alan Marshall, of Baltimore County. Both said they own handguns and enjoy target shooting, and made their first visit to the Bel Air show as they sought out either rifles or shotguns — they did not make any purchases Saturday.
“Just being a firearms fanatic, something like this being at home [in Harford County] is pretty cool,” Crespo said.
Both men, who have 3-year-olds, said they want their children to understand how to safely handle guns and avoid accidents.
“I want my son to be able to see a gun and know exactly what not to do, and what to do, to keep him safe,” Crespo said.
Marshall said he did not initially like guns, but they became less “spooky” as he got to know people who use them and could show him different aspects of firearms.
“Just having a general awareness of guns and how to use guns, it’s more helpful than being completely ignorant,” he said.
Different types of gun enthusiasts
Vendor William Chapman, owner of the BCG-Wear apparel firm, was selling T-shirts, many of them emblazoned with slogans promoting gun ownership such as “this is my peace sign,” with an image of a gun’s iron sights, “I plead the 2nd [Amendment],” or a complex math problem and the phrase “sometimes...violence IS the answer.” Another shirt bore a version of the Starbucks logo with a woman holding two handguns and the phrase “I (heart) guns & coffee.”
A “Trump 2020” baseball cap also rested among the wares on Chapman’s table. Chapman said the apparel designs were either created by him, or he found them online.
“It’s more for people that are gun enthusiasts or Second Amendment supporters ... that would like to make a statement,” the Bel Air resident said. “I just try to come up with things that I think people would like to wear.”
Chapman stressed that gun enthusiasts do not fit into one group of people, and that gun ownership rights enshrined in the Second Amendment to the U.S. Constitution do not apply to one group.
“It’s a civil right, so it’s for everybody,” he said. “It’s not for one group or two groups.”