Anne Arundel County is reviewing a lawsuit aimed at voiding a bill passed by the County Council in January that is designed to prevent smash-and-grab style burglaries at gun stores by imposing more security requirements.
The law, which passed along party lines with the four Democrats voting for it and the three Republicans against it, requires gun store owners to take extra measures to prevent their stores from being burglarized.
Requirements include having their buildings monitored at all times by video surveillance, installing exterior bollards and concrete barriers to prevent intruders from driving into the building, and setting up interior or exterior security gates or screens. It also requires that all guns be secured in a locked rack, metal cabinet, wire cage, glass case or safe when the business is closed.
Police who find gun stores not in compliance may post a security guard at the location until the business is no longer in violation. Police also may issue a citation for $500 on the first offense and $1,000 on the second or subsequent offenses. The law took effect Thursday, but businesses have 180 days to comply.
Bill 109-21, sponsored by Andrew Pruski, a Gambrills Democrat, was modeled after similar legislation in Baltimore County known as the SAFE Act. Pruski declined to comment on the lawsuit.
“Our suit challenges that bill on multiple grounds including that it’s preempted by state law and that it’s too vague to be enforced,” said Mark Pennak, one of the lawyers who filed the lawsuit.
Specifically, Pennak says the county is preempted from taking this action because, according to state code, it’s up to the state to make laws about certain issues, in this case guns.
Pennak is also the president of Maryland Shall Issue, Inc., a nonprofit group that advocates for gun owners’ rights in Maryland. The organization is one of five plaintiffs in the case along with four gun stores: Field Traders in Pasadena, Cindy’s Hot Shots in Glen Burnie, Pasadena Arms and Worth-A-Shot in Millersville.
The lawsuit was filed in Anne Arundel County Circuit Court on Feb. 7 and the county was served the following week. The county’s Office of Law has 30 days to file a response.
While County Attorney Gregory Swain said he was familiar with the “preempted” section of the code, he said his office justified the law under section 4-209 in the criminal law article of state code. The code addresses counties having their rights preempted by state law but cites a few exceptions, including being able to regulate gun sales “within 100 yards of or in a park, church, school, public building, and other place of public assembly.” The exception of being near a public place is written into bill 109-21.
Pennak said the new law has brought a lot of distress to county gun dealers, who fear the high costs they will have to bear to increase security at their shops.
“These requirements are so expensive and they impose such costs on the dealers that it would drive a lot of dealers out of business. If they can’t be driven out of business they’re going to drive up the costs so high they won’t be competitive with arms dealers outside of Anne Arundel County,” Pennak said. “This is a matter of their survival as a business.”
John Walker, owner of Pasadena Arms, said he can’t comply with the law because he doesn’t own the property — he rents it — so he cannot install bollards outside the store. He added that the space outside the store is small and leaves room for only a few parking spots.
“If they want to force us to do it, I’ll close the store and they’ll lose taxes and they’ll lose business,” Walker said. “They’re putting additional costs on us, it’s ridiculous.”
Walker said he doesn’t worry about smash-and-grabs at his store because all the guns inside are locked in safes.
Not only will this law affect the 21 stores that sell guns in the county, it will also negatively impact residents, Pennak said.
“It bears on the rights of everybody to buy firearms because it drives up the cost of firearms,” Pennak said. “If [these stores] go out of business, there’d be less availability of firearms to the citizens of Anne Arundel County.”
Pennak also argued the bill would not be effective in preventing smash-and-grab burglaries.
“It may well be that people can smash into stores and steal, but the requirements imposed by this bill will not stop that. It might slow it down, but then the thieves will just change their tactics,” Pennak said. “Thieves are not nearly as stupid as this bill seems to think they are.”
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However, Lt. Jacklyn Davis, spokesperson for the Anne Arundel County Police, said just because the law might not stop all smash-and-grab burglaries doesn’t mean it will have no impact.
“Anything that makes it harder will help. Will it stop it all? Probably not. But I think anything that can be an additional precaution that may keep a weapon out of somebody’s hand who may want to use it for a criminal reason or to hurt somebody is well worth it,” Davis said.
While smash-and-grabs at gun stores are not all that common in the county — only two were reported last year, both at Anglers Sport Center in Annapolis — they can cause major issues for police.
“Unregistered guns are exceptionally problematic for us,” Davis said. “Because when we do find them used in a crime and recover them, obviously the owner they’re registered to is not the person that is our suspect.”
Davis said most guns related to criminal activity are unregistered and anything that prevents residents from obtaining guns illegally is worth it to the department.
While Swain did not say how the county plans to respond to the lawsuit, he said his office always takes great pains to review every bill that crosses its desk.
“The Office of Law reviews all legislation to ensure that the legislation complies with state law and we did that in this case, as well,” Swain said. “We feel the law is defendable.”