Maryland lawmakers must act swiftly — and smartly — on gun safety | COMMENTARY

Thank you for supporting our journalism. This article is available exclusively for our subscribers, who help fund our work at The Baltimore Sun.

People gather to sign wooden crosses placed at a makeshift memorial by the entrance of the Covenant School on Tuesday, March 28, 2023, in Nashville, Tennessee. (Mark Zaleski/The Tennessean via AP)

Monday morning’s attack on The Convent School in Nashville, which left three adults and three children dead despite a timely and forceful response by local police, was just the latest example of a mass shooting that was accommodated by this nation’s lax approach to gun ownership. The 28-year-old shooter, who was killed by police responding to the scene, had easy and legal access to multiple firearms, including the two military-style assault rifles used in the attack.

Even at their fastest, police can’t outrun a bullet. Placing reasonable limits on weapons of mass destruction is critical to limiting further tragedies. This includes banning certain high-powered rifles or high-capacity magazines to creating do-not-sell lists so people with behavior disorders might, in their more clearheaded moments, voluntarily make arrangements to prevent their purchase of firearms when they are not so rational. Tennessee is a Republican-majority state that has not only been reluctant to adopt such restrictions but has gone the other way in recent years, loosening limits on gun ownership. Will this latest mass killing spark an outcry and rethinking on gun safety?


If not in Tennessee, it ought to reinforce efforts in Annapolis during the final two weeks of the 90-day legislative session to take greater action to protect Marylanders, whether they are in school classrooms or other public venues, in their own homes or on the street. Too many people think of gun violence only in the context of urban living, a crisis for Baltimore’s low-income communities alone. The truth is that it extends far beyond the city’s borders — to suburbs like Cockeysville, where in February two police officers were shot and injured in the capture of 24-year-old David Emory Linthicum, and to suburban schools in more communities throughout the country than we can bear listing. These horrors often arise from the collision of too little mental health help with too easy access to firearms.

And the disastrous decisions of recent years on gun law by the U.S. Supreme Court’s conservative majority have only left things muddled at best; that includes last summer’s New York State Rifle and Pistol Association v. Bruen decision, limiting a state’s ability to require a license to carry concealed weapons in public places and leading to an explosion in the number of people choosing to bear arms. In Maryland last year, post Bruen, the number of gun permits applied for and approved soared to 83,479 — from 10,172 in 2021 — bringing the total number of active wear and carry firearm permits in the state to more than 114,000.


Earlier this month, the state Senate approved legislation that would add to the requirements for issuance of a permit and restrict the carrying of firearms on private property without owner permission. Some of the provisions have proven controversial and rightfully raised concerns over inequitable enforcement among races and ethnicities. “If the strategies used to enforce this bill resemble the past trends and patterns for racial and ethnic disparities, it is possible that Black or African American individuals, Hispanic or Latino individuals, and potentially others who carry a firearm outside of the home may be subject to more aggressive enforcement and harsher punishments relative to their white counterparts,” warned a racial equity impact note accompanying Senate Bill 1. Such uneven application of the law shouldn’t be tolerated in any sphere, and we would expect demographic data to be recorded, analyzed and acted upon if disparities are revealed.

The House, too, has demonstrated interest in gun safety legislation, including Judiciary Chair Luke Clippinger’s proposal to restrict handgun permits. His approach has merit — including spelling out very specifically who would not be eligible for a permit, such as those with certain criminal convictions (or non-convictions by those found incompetent to stand trial or not criminally responsible, which is crucial for including mentally ill individuals). The Baltimore delegate’s bill also has the notable addition of a requirement that state public health officials develop a “Youth Suicide Prevention and Firearm Safe Storage Guide” that would be made widely available to the public.

It is entirely possible that, as opponents to gun restrictions claim, whatever action is taken by lawmakers will be challenged in federal court given the Supreme Court’s willingness to ignore precedent. But that is all the more reason to test the limits, including those “shall-issue” handgun carry permits that Bruen allows, with criteria that is likely to be judged objective and not “arbitrary.”

Are tougher gun safety laws the only response to heightened levels of gun violence? No, they are not. We have long supported holistic approaches that seek to deter people from violent crime, and to capture and imprison those who offend. Still, we can’t ignore that a prime reason why firearm injuries are the leading cause of death for children in the United States is the failure to regulate guns. We can’t abandon the next round of victims by doing nothing (or too little) to change this dire circumstance.

Baltimore Sun editorial writers offer opinions and analysis on news and issues relevant to readers. They operate separately from the newsroom.