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Leading Democrats push to expand Maryland's assault-weapons ban

A device called a "bump stock" is attached to a semi-automatic rifle at the Gun Vault store and shooting range in South Jordan, Utah. Top Democrats in the Maryland General Assembly want to expand the state's assault weapons ban to forbid the sale of bump stocks.
A device called a "bump stock" is attached to a semi-automatic rifle at the Gun Vault store and shooting range in South Jordan, Utah. Top Democrats in the Maryland General Assembly want to expand the state's assault weapons ban to forbid the sale of bump stocks. (Rick Bowmer / AP)

Top Democrats in the General Assembly want to expand Maryland's assault weapons ban to also forbid the sale of bump stocks, the device used in the Las Vegas mass shooting to turn a semiautomatic rifle into a rapidly firing weapon.

Maryland’s sweeping ban on military-style guns and high-capacity magazines had been under court review for years until Monday, when the U.S. Supreme Court let stand a lower court’s ruling that the ban was constitutional.

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In the wake of that decision, Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller and House Speaker Michael E. Busch said Tuesday through their respective chiefs of staff that they’ll support efforts to expand the ban when the legislature reconvenes.

“I’m all for it,” Busch said, “There’s no need to have bump stocks that make weapons into field artillery.”

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Gov. Larry Hogan said expanding the assault weapons ban to bar the sale of bump stocks is “worth discussing.”.

The General Assembly hasn’t revisited Maryland’s assault weapons ban since it was passed in 2013. The law bans 45 types of semiautomatic weapons and a dozens of features that gun-control advocates say make the firearms more deadly.

Gun rights advocates took their case against Maryland’s strict Firearm Safety Act to the U.S. Supreme Court Monday, asking the justices to strike down a lower court ruling upholding the law.

But it doesn’t ban bump stocks, a previously little-known accessory that converts a legal, semiautomatic rifle into a gun that more quickly fires, similar to an automatic weapon. The shooter in the October massacre of 58 people at a Las Vegas concert used bump stocks as he fired from a hotel room into a crowd 32 stories below.

This month, Massachusetts became the first state to ban bump stocks after the Las Vegas shooting. Lawmakers in Pennsylvania, New York and Nevada, as well as the governor of Washington, have also proposed banning the devices. Efforts in Congress to ban them have stalled, despite the National Rifle Association’s support for tighter regulations.

“This is not a huge change to gun policy in Maryland,” said Del. David Moon, the Montgomery County Democrat who is the measure’s lead sponsor in the House of Delegates. “This is a pretty modest measure that keeps intact the assault weapons ban that was upheld.”

Moon said the Supreme Court’s decision to let the assault weapons ban stand “may have lifted a legal cloud on the whole conversation” about expanding restrictions.

Maryland gun owners had sued over the constitutionality of Maryland’s law, arguing that it went too far in barring the sale of an entire class of weapons. The case ultimately went to the 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals earlier this year, which upheld the ban. Judge Robert King wrote that “we have not power to extend Second Amendment protections to weapons of war.”

The Supreme Court declined to hear the case Monday. Twenty-one states had asked the justices to take it up.

Maryland lawmakers will also consider whether to get rid of the Handgun Permit Review Board, which has the power to overturn the Maryland State Police’s decision on who gets a concealed-carry permit. Instead, an administrative law judge would have that power.

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