Gun control advocates push to ban build-your-own guns, expand background checks on private sales

Although Maryland already has some of the strictest firearms laws in the nation, members of Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense in America said Thursday that the state needs to adopt new measures and remain a leader on gun control.

Women in red T-shirts, some carrying young children, fanned out across the Maryland State House complex to press lawmakers to pass a series of bills that would make it more difficult to obtain guns. They advocated for a ban on 3D printed guns and guns assembled from kits known as “ghost guns” and for requiring background checks on private purchases of shotguns and rifles.

“ ‘Thoughts and prayers’ are nice but they’re not enough,” said Sen. Susan Lee, a Montgomery County Democrat, referring to a sentiment often expressed toward victims after mass shootings. She was one of several lawmakers who spoke at a boisterous rally of Moms Demand Action members.

Sen. Will Smith, also a Montgomery Democrat, said Maryland has done a lot on gun control — banning assault weapons, banning bump stocks, creating a “red flag” law to remove guns in some emergency situations — but could do more.

“We again want to lead here in Maryland,” Smith said.

Democratic leaders in both the House of Delegates and the state Senate have made banning 3D printed guns and ghost guns among their priorities for the General Assembly session.

However, gun control advocates can expect fierce opposition from advocates for the rights of gun owners. While they don’t plan a specific day to lobby, as the gun control advocates did, they plan to turn out for hearings on gun control legislation.

Mark Pennak, president of the group Maryland Shall Issue, said state lawmakers again are poised to “really go over the top” in regulating guns.

Pennak said in an interview that 3D printed guns and the “ghost gun” kits don’t pose a threat to public safety. They’re more expensive to buy than conventional guns sold at stores or shows, he said.

“These are hobbyists who like tinkering with guns, rather than computers or cars,” he said.

And the proposed requirement for background checks on private sales of long guns would be cumbersome and expensive, he said.

If the requirement became law, Pennak said, the state could carry it out by expanding its program for checking the backgrounds of handgun buyers. Pennak questioned the need for such an expansion, noting that most violent crimes are committed by people using handguns. He said “a very small number, relatively” of murders are committed with long guns.

“You are more likely to be killed with fists and feet than a long gun,” he said.

But gun control advocates point no further than four miles from the State House to the former newsroom of the Capital-Gazette Newspapers on Bestgate Road, where a man with a shotgun killed five employees in June. The man who was charged, Jarrod Ramos, legally purchased the shotgun.

While none of the proposals correspond directly with the details of how the newspaper shooting suspect got a gun, advocates referenced the crime in calling for scrutiny overall as to who can buy guns and how they obtain them.

Del. Vanessa Atterbeary, one of the bill sponsors, cited the newspaper killings and a school shooting in May in Texas where a teenager with a shotgun and a revolver is charged with killing 10 people.

“It’s time that we do something about this in the state of Maryland,” said Atterbeary, a Howard County Democrat.

Andrea Chamblee, the widow of John McNamara, a veteran journalist who was killed in the newspaper attack, brought many at the Moms Demand Action rally to tears as she recalled kissing her husband goodbye that morning.

“I lost my husband to a man with three restraining orders and a history of online threats,” Chamblee said. Nevertheless, she said, he was able to “quickly and legally buy a firearm in Maryland.”

Jarrod Ramos has pleaded not guilty to multiple counts of murder and other charges stemming from the newsroom killings. He’s facing a March deadline to decide if he wants to plead not criminally responsible.

Other gun control measures that lawmakers are expected to consider would make it illegal for someone to own a gun after pleading guilty to stalking and being granted probation before judgement, as well as revising the definition of making a threat of a mass violence.

Under current law, the targets of such a threat must be “placed in reasonable fear,” evacuate or move to a safe space for the person making the threat to be criminally charged. Lee’s bill changes the definition of the crime to threatening five or more people with death or injury if the threat were carried out.

Lee called them “no-brainer gun safety laws.”

Del. Kathleen Dumais said of all the gun control proposals, the most difficult one to pass will be the one that requires background checks for private sales of long guns.

“I think that’s a really heavy lift,” Dumais, the House majority leader, said in an interview. The Montgomery County Democrat said that’s because hunting and shooting is a hobby and a family bonding experience for many in the state.

“Balancing that is going to be tough. Certainly, I take the position that we’re not saying you can’t have it, you just have to go through an appropriate safeguard,” she said.

pwood@baltsun.com

twitter.com/pwoodreporter

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