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GOP delegates seek to weaken laws banning guns on campuses

Amanda Yeager
Contact Reporterayeager@capgaznews.com
GOP delegates seek to weaken laws banning guns on campuses

Republicans from Anne Arundel County's delegation joined a GOP effort Wednesday to weaken legislation that seeks to ban guns on public college campuses in the state.

House Bill 1002, sponsored by Del. Ben Barnes, D-Anne Arundel and Prince George's counties, would make carrying firearms on those campuses a misdemeanor punishable by up to three years in prison and/or a $1,000 fine.

Barnes said the legislation would increase campus safety by keeping guns away from vulnerable young adults.

"It's about protecting all of our children," he said.

The bill has the support of 38 other House Democrats, including Speaker Mike Busch, D-Annapolis. A similar bill has 21 backers in the Senate.

But a contingent of Republican delegates said Wednesday that the bill would deprive students, teachers and campus visitors of the right to carry a gun for protection and could end up punishing unsuspecting violators.

The floor debate kicked off a day of focus on gun bills in Annapolis. Wednesday afternoon, members of the Senate's Judicial Proceedings committee spent hours hearing testimony on 16 gun-related bills. More than 400 people signed up to testify.

In the House, Del. Meagan Simonaire, R-Pasadena, proposed providing an exception to the gun ban to people who hold a concealed carry permit and "can show tangible, documented evidence of a threat" to their lives.

"This bill provides safety to some at the expense of others," Simonaire said of Barnes' proposal. "Rape survivors shouldn't be made to feel a victim again at the hands of their legislature."

Several Anne Arundel delegates spoke in favor of another amendment that would allow all concealed carry permit holders to bring their guns onto campuses.

Del. Herb McMillan, R-Annapolis, said a young woman who had been stalked might want to carry a gun for safety.

"If this amendment doesn't pass, she couldn't go to class," he said.

House Minority Leader Nic Kipke, R-Pasadena, said concealed carry permit holders have a "God-given right to self-defense."

"Whether you think it's right or wrong … I think it's their choice."

Barnes pointed out that colleges in the state already ban concealed carry through their own policies.

"College campuses where concealed carry permits are allowed have higher crime rates," he said.

Republicans also argued that allowing some guns on campus could save lives in the event of a mass shooting. The law already provides exemptions to police officers, retired police officers in good standing, security guards hired by the university and people who have permission from the administration to use guns as part of a historic re-enactment.

Unlike other buildings where guns are banned, such as courthouses, campuses do not have metal detectors at all points of entry, said Del. Tony McConkey, R-Severna Park.

"If there's no one there to stop (an active shooter), the number of deaths increases," Kipke said. "People can exert their Second Amendment rights and potentially save lives."

Barnes countered that the bill isn't just aimed at preventing mass shootings. It could help reduce accidental shootings and suicide among young adults, who already suffer from a suicide rate that's much higher than the average, he said.

He also pushed back against suggestions that carrying a gun would increase safety for an individual or the campus as a whole. He said sexual assault advocates have told him that the presence of a gun "actually makes it more dangerous for the victim."

According to statistics from the National Coalition Against Domestic Violence, a gun's presence during a domestic violence situation increases the risk of homicide by 500 percent.

Other Republican proposals included amendments to gut the bill's criminal penalties by replacing them with civil fines, and an amendment requiring the state to provide 24-hour security to students who felt threatened but could not carry a gun.

All of the amendments failed, with votes that followed party lines.

Further discussion on the bill has been delayed until Thursday or Friday. More amendments will likely be presented for consideration then.

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