Harford GOP legislators, gun rights backers, candidates turn out for Bel Air rally Saturday

Dozens of people came to downtown Bel Air Saturday afternoon to take part in the Harford County Republican Central Committee's Second Amendment Rally and to meet many of the local legislators who tried unsuccessfully to defeat the state's latest gun control legislation.

Gun rights supporters gathered along South Main Street in front of the Harford County Courthouse to hear from nearly every Republican member of Harford County's legislative delegation to the Maryland General Assembly. A smattering of would-be candidates for various offices in next year's election were also in attendance.

Organizers said afterward they believed 95 people attended the rally, which lasted between 90 minutes and two hours.

"All of these Republicans fought for our Second Amendment rights," Patrick McGrady, a member of the Central Committee, told the crowd.

McGrady referred to the recent debate over the Maryland Firearm Safety Act of 2013, which was passed by both houses of the legislature in the recently concluded 2013 session. Gov. Martin O'Malley, who supported the legislation, is scheduled to sign the bill, SB-281, into law next month.

"The reason we had this rally is because every single Republican legislator from Harford County voted against Gov. O'Malley's gun grab bill," McGrady said.

Two local state senators, Barry Glassman and J.B. Jennings, and five House members – Dels. Glen Glass, Susan McComas, Patrick McDonough, Wayne Norman and Kathy Szeliga – spoke to the crowd, along with Harford County Councilman Joe Woods, who served as a representative of the county council in Annapolis this year.

"The gun bill was a terrible piece of legislation," said Jennings, whose district includes parts of western Harford and eastern Baltimore counties. "It was an issue that did not address what they were trying to deal with; it did nothing to address mental health, crime – nowhere in the bill does it deal with increasing penalties. It's absolutely ridiculous when you look at the bill."

The legislation brought many passionate supporters, both for and against stricter state laws on firearm purchases and magazine capacity in semi-automatic rifles, to the state capital during the legislative session, which ended in early April.

Cindy Titus, legislative aide to Sen. Nancy Jacobs, also spoke to the crowd. She said Jacobs' office was inundated with telephone calls, e-mails and visits from constituents who were against the legislation.

"We may be small in number here today but we aren't in this battle alone, and don't ever forget that," Titus said.

Not in attendance at the rally were Republican Dels. Rick Impallaria and Donna Stifler, who likewise voted against the legislation. Also not attending was the county delegation's lone Democrat, Del. Mary-Dulany James, who also voted against SB-281 when it passed the House by a 78-61 margin on final reading, according to the Maryland General Assembly website.

Vote for GOP urged

McGrady encouraged those in the audience to vote for their local incumbent Republican legislators in 2014, and work to increase the number of Republicans in Annapolis by registering new voters and convincing as many people as possible to vote Republican.

"Just remember, friends don't let friends vote Democrat!" Barry Lloyd of Bel Air, who was in the crowd, called out.

McGrady said if enough Republicans are elected to form a "super-minority" in the Senate – more then one-third of the body – there would be enough to stop legislation via a filibuster.

"If they get to 19 senators that are Republicans, they can stop any bill in Annapolis," he explained. This year, there were 14 Republicans in the 47-member Senate.

Woods, a Republican, said he spent a great deal of time in Annapolis this session, working with legislators and working on amendments to the bill. His wife, Laura, operates Maryland Quartermaster, which is licensed to sell firearms and is less than a block from where Saturday's rally was held.

"We were down there fighting nonstop and I can't tell you how proud I was of our delegation. Every day they were fighting for something, they were banging their heads against the wall for something and it gave me a whole new respect for them, it absolutely did," Woods said of the local GOP legislators.

The crowd also heard from Jeff Gahler, a retired Maryland State Police captain who has announced his intention to run again for Harford County sheriff next year. Gahler, a Republican, lost by three percentage points to Sheriff Jesse Bane in 2010.

"The sheriff is crucially important in how we live in Harford County," Gahler said.

'More guns, not less'

Rally organizers noted county sheriffs are typically elected by the people in their jurisdictions – and must answer to them – rather than police chiefs appointed by local governments.

A number of sheriffs across the U.S. have protested federal gun control legislation and have pledged not to enforce it – should it ever be passed – in their communities.

Gahler said he would "never, as a law enforcement leader, send law enforcement officers to law-abiding citizens'" homes to enforce federal gun laws.

The deadly shootings at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newton, Conn., in December have galvanized legislative efforts to strengthen existing gun laws at the state and federal levels – the Manchin-Toomey amendment to require background checks of all gun purchasers, even those buying firearms at a gun show, recently failed in the U.S. Senate.

"As God-awful as Sandy Hook was, the answer is actually more guns, not less," Gahler said.

AR-15 raffle

Representatives of the Route 40 Republican Club were also present Saturday, raffling off an AR-15 sports rifle – provided by Maryland Quartermaster, Woods' wife's business. The drawing will take place during the group's meeting on June 13.

John Stortstrom, vice president of the Route 40 club, and Woods showed the AR-15 to people at the rally. Anyone interested in purchasing tickets can call 410-679-6115 or 410-812-1267.

"The reason we support the Second Amendment is because we realize that criminals don't follow the law, no matter how restrictive the government is on guns," McGrady said after the rally.

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