Dozens of Marylanders of differing perspectives on gun rights turned up at the State House as three gun-related bills were heard by three separate committees Wednesday afternoon.
One would create a fund for the state to buy back legally possessed assault weapons, another would classify .223 and .300 caliber AM-15 rifles as “regulated firearms,” effectively prohibiting them, and the third bill would require background checks for the private transfer of rifles and shotguns, also called long guns.
For House Bill 4 — which would require background checks for the private transfer of long guns — women in red and men wearing buttons that read “Man enough to be Moms” began gathering outside the House Judiciary Committee Room more than an hour ahead of the hearing time. Many said they were survivors of gun violence.
Members of Moms Demand Action For Gun Sense in America, many of whom wore the group’s signature red t-shirts and hats, came to support the bill. Several proponents acknowledged that while House Bill 4 wouldn’t have saved their loved ones from death by firearm, it could prevent other death and suffering.
Both Democratic and Republican lawmakers engaged thoughtfully with those delivering testimony. Much of the testimony from the bill’s proponents was teary-eyed, but there were also some contentious moments of disagreement between lawmakers and their constituents.
Tension in the room was tangible when the bill’s sponsor Del. Vanessa Atterbeary, D-Howard County, fired back after one opponent’s testimony.
“I don’t think in Maryland we need to wait for a tragedy at a park, at a religious institution or a school,” she said. “How many deaths does this panel think is necessary to happen before we start requiring background checks?”
Her bill would require that a licensed firearms dealer facilitate the transfer or a rifle or shotgun, by sale, gift or loan. The facilitated transfer would include a background check through the FBI’s National Instant Background Check System, or NICS Index.
It outlines certain exceptions such as transfer between family members, licensed collectors, or in situations necessary to prevent imminent death or serious bodily harm for a short period of time.
Opponents of the bill say that it would do nothing to improve public safety but will create a burden on law-abiding citizens.
Advocates say it would close a dangerous loophole in Maryland’s universal background check law that allows individuals to obtain long guns through private transfers without a background check.
Among the dozens of women in red who testified in support of House Bill 4 was Andrea Chamblee, whose husband John McNamara was killed in the June 2018 attack on the Capital Gazette newsroom in Annapolis. He was one of five staff members killed, along with Wendi Winters, Rob Hiaasen, Gerald Fischman and Rebecca Smith.
Chamblee said the bill would help keep guns out of the hands of people who shouldn’t have them.
The bill would not have prevented her husband’s death, the man who has pleaded guilty to the murders, passed a background check and purchased the shotgun legally. But Chamblee implored the committee to consider the broader impact of gun violence beyond those who die by it.
Dressed in red with her late husband’s press pass around her neck, Chamblee said that survivors, witnesses, first responders, family and friends of victims, must be considered.
“What has happened to me since my husband was killed — none of it is counted,” Chamblee said. “No bullets touched my body, but you can’t tell me there’s not a gaping hole of loss in my chest.”
Chamblee was followed by dozens of others who succinctly shared their experiences with gun violence and expressed their support for the bill.
Maria Matiella, a former assistant secretary of the Army, said that although she is a gun owner, she supports House Bill 4. Although she supports the second amendment, she said she rejects the idea that background checks are a burden. They only take about 20 minutes, she said.
House Minority Leader Del. Nic Kipke, R-Pasadena, is not on the judiciary committee, but came out against the bill in an email to constituents, which was attached to a statement from Maryland Shall Issue, a gun rights advocacy group.
“A quick glance at the proposals is all it takes to realize that this bill will do nothing to improve public safety but will create a burden on law-abiding citizens,” Kipke wrote.
Maryland Policy & Politics
Kipke’s wife Susannah Kipke is an administrative officer with the National Rifle Association, but in an interview with The Capital, Kipke said she is not involved with Maryland Shall Issue at all.
He said he plans to support legislation that would make the theft of a firearm a felony in Maryland.
Katie Novotny, a Harford County resident with Maryland Shall Issue, said she grew up learning safe practices around guns, and she thinks that proponents of the bill just aren’t comfortable with guns.
On her lapel, she wore a shiny elephant pin representing the Republican Women of Harford County, and a neon orange sticker that read: “Guns save lives.”
“They maybe haven’t been exposed to the good things,” Novotny said. “I use (guns) for sporting activities. I do competition shoots. I have them in my house in case I have to defend myself. A lot of people didn’t grow up in a culture where that’s okay.”
Scott Davis, a Hagerstown resident who opposes the bill, doesn’t give much credit to the view that this bill would keep long guns out of the hands of those who shouldn’t have them.
“Criminals don’t follow the law,” he said. This sentiment was echoed by several opponents of the law, who said this bill only restricts law-abiding citizens.