A bill that would require background checks for private sales of long guns passed in the Maryland House of Delegates on Tuesday, 87-47, after much debate.
House Bill 4 would require a licensed firearms dealer to facilitate the transfer of 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.
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.
Opponents of the bill say that it would do nothing to improve public safety and would affect the wrong people.
Anne Arundel delegates voted along party lines, with the exception of Del. Ned Carey, D-Brooklyn Park, who voted against the bill, and Del. Michael Malone, R-Crofton, who voted in support. After the June 28, 2018, mass shooting in the Capital Gazette newsroom, Malone said in an op-ed in The Capital that he hoped “to be part of a path to reducing the senseless violence that has become all too prevalent in our county, state and nation.”
The vote among the county delegation was 10-4-1. Del. Sid Saab, R-Crownsville, was excused from voting.
Before the vote, House Minority Leader Nic Kipke, R-Pasadena, made one last appeal to his colleagues. He argued that the bill would be an undue burden on law-abiding citizens.
“It's just not that simple and the bill before us will not make us safer,” Kipke said. “The problem is that criminals don't care about background checks when it comes to long guns because they don't use long guns that are purchased legally in their crimes.”
The bill’s primary sponsor, Del. Vanessa Atterbeary, D-Howard County, argued this bill protects law-abiding citizens.
“If you’re a law-abiding citizen, you should have no problem going and getting a background check because you’ll pass it,” she said before the body voted.
Del. Kathleen M. Dumais, D-Montgomery County, acknowledged that the passage of this bill won’t eliminate all gun violence in the state. Where it will make a difference, she said, is in cases of domestic violence.
Right now, secondary transfers aren’t regulated. Background checks are only required for long gun purchases made from a licensed firearms dealer.
The Senate version of the bill, filed by Sen. Susan C. Lee, D-Montgomery County, is up for a hearing at 2 p.m. on Wednesday in the Senate Judiciary Committee.
In Maryland when someone wants to buy a regulated firearm, they have to be approved for a Handgun Qualification License, which requires a background check on top of other requirements and is valid for 10 years. It is illegal to lie on this form.
Still, an investigation by The Capital found that failed background checks rarely result in perjury prosecutions.
Maryland Policy & Politics
If an application is denied, the Maryland State Police Gun Center is notified and troopers are assigned to investigate. If they determine someone with a history of violent crime, mental health disqualifies, or final protective orders might possess firearms, they immediately go to the individual and confiscate the firearms, The Capital reported. At a minimum, troopers say they try to talk to every failed applicant.
At a recent hearing, many gun violence survivors testified including Andrea Chamblee, the widow of John McNamara who died in the June 28, 2018, shooting in the Capital Gazette newsroom.
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. Chamblee and dozens of other proponents acknowledged that while House Bill 4 wouldn’t have saved their loved ones from death by firearm, but they argue it could prevent other death and suffering.
Versions of the same bill passed in both the House and Senate last year, but did not become law after the two chambers could not resolve differences between the two bills.
If the legislation were to pass this year, it may lead to civil disobedience by gun rights advocates. Some supporters of gun ownership repeatedly said they would not comply should the bill become law. On Sine Die, they sent their message to Gov. Larry Hogan with a banner above flying above the city that read: “We will not comply! How about you Larry?”
The Wicomico County Sheriff, Mike Lewis, had a similar message. Although the bill did not and does not mandate the confiscation of firearms, he said he would not comply with any bill that would require his deputies to take guns away from law-abiding citizens. He called this a “suicide mission.”
Law enforcement officers do confiscate weapons under Maryland’s red flag laws, which authorizes Extreme Risk Protective Orders signed by a judge.