If federal government won't control guns, Md. will

Following the Valentine’s Day school shooting in Parkland, Fla., guns have once again captivated the American people and polarized national politics. It breaks my heart to see the same cycle repeat itself over and over. Many factors and forces come together in each of these acts of violence, but what lies at the center of each and every tragedy is one constant: guns. And despite this fact the federal government refuses to address gun control.

On a cold December morning in 2012 in Newtown, Conn., the modern gun debate changed forever when 20 children and six educators lost their lives to a Bushmaster XM-15 semi-automatic rifle. When the nation seemed to stand still and Washington, D.C., refused to make a difference, Maryland did. In 2013, the General Assembly passed the Firearm Safety Act.

Signing this legislation was one of the proudest moments of my entire legislative career. This law bans 45 different types of assault weapons — including AR-15 style rifles — and high-capacity magazines. The law establishes a zero tolerance policy for weapons of war in civilian hands. I also believe the Firearm Safety Act strikes the balance between preserving Second Amendment rights and upholding public safety, which has been affirmed over and over again by the courts.

There’s a misconception here in Maryland that lawmakers want to “take your guns,” and that’s simply not the truth. I have always respected hunters and sportsman alike and believe that right and culture should be preserved. As a governing body however, we have a duty to enact common-sense legislation to make sure people who shouldn’t have dangerous weapons can’t get ahold of them.

In the years following Maryland’s Firearm Safety Act, the federal government has continued to resist gun reform. Since Newtown, over 1,600 mass shootings have taken place in America, according to some counts, including: San Bernardino, the Pulse nightclub, First Baptist Church in Sutherland Springs, and the country music concert in Las Vegas.

This year, the General Assembly is considering new legislation to protect the public in the wake of these recent tragedies. For starters, Maryland will ban bump stocks — the device used in Las Vegas — and other trigger devices that convert guns into automatic weapons. There is no reason a citizen needs the same tool that enabled the Las Vegas shooter, plain and simple.

The General Assembly will also reform the state’s Handgun Review Board by taking politics out of the process. Currently, the Maryland State Police is in charge of granting concealed carry permits. If the State Police reject an application, the applicant is allowed to appeal the decision to the Handgun Review Board, a group of citizens politically appointed by the governor. Over the last three years, the Handgun Review Board has overturned State Police rulings and issued concealed carry permits at triple the rate since the board was established in 1972.

This is completely unacceptable. If the State Police don’t think you should be allowed to carry a handgun, I don’t either. Instead the Handgun Review Board’s political appointees will be replaced with judges who will work with the State Police to make the best decisions.

This session, the General Assembly will also consider a “red flag law.” This would allow law enforcement to confiscate firearms from a person who is believed to be a serious danger to themselves or others. The process would play out much like protective order requests, where an individual makes a report to law enforcement and judges decide on an evidence-driven case-by-case basis. Five states already have “red flag laws,” and studies from those states show a connection between seizing troubled individuals’ weapons and a decrease in gun deaths and suicides.

We are also considering legislation to ensure that guns don’t remain in the hands of convicted abusers. Far too often, the task of transferring those firearms has fallen through the cracks and abusers have kept guns they no longer have the right to own.

While the federal government sits on the sideline, the Maryland General Assembly will continue taking a proactive approach on gun reform and do everything possible to reduce the chances of these senseless tragedies in our communities.

Michael E. Busch, a Democrat, is speaker of the Maryland House of Delegates. His email is michael.busch@house.state.md.us.

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