Rachael Pacella doesn’t know if proposed legislation requiring rifles and shotguns to be regulated like handguns would prevent another mass shooting, like the one she survived in June.
But Pacella, who lived through the June massacre at the Capital Gazette newspaper in Annapolis, told a state Senate committee Wednesday that it if stricter gun laws stop even one death, that would be enough.
“Anything that will prevent one shooting of any size would be worth your vote,” she said, “and this bill will do that.”
The reporter — an employee of The Baltimore Sun Media Group — was one of dozens of people who showed up to testify about Senate Bill 737 before the Judicial Proceedings Committee. The legislation would require a licensed firearms dealer to facilitate any private sales of such guns, and that background checks be conducted.
The bill also would create a licensing mechanism for rifles and shotguns, similar to what’s required for handguns, under the authority of the Maryland State Police.
The man charged in the Capital Gazette shooting used a legally purchased shotgun, according to police. He has pleaded not guilty.
State Sen. Susan Lee, the Montgomery County Democrat who sponsored the legislation, said the bill “attempts to close a huge loophole in our public safety code.”
Opponents believe it would infringe on the rights of legal gun owners, who they describe as people who use long guns to hunt or who collect firearms. The number of people killed using a long gun is relatively small, they said, and they said they doubt the regulations proposed by Lee would prevent would-be shooters from getting their hands on guns.
Instead, they argued, the bill represents an undue, expensive burden for law-abiding people.
Those in opposition — including the sheriffs of Frederick and Wicomico counties — decried the licensing fees that would be imposed under the legislation, as well as a proposed restriction limiting a person to buying one rifle or shotgun within a 30-day period.
“It could turn into an absolute nightmare,” John Josselyn, representing a group called 2A Maryland, told senators.
Some senators raised the question of whether long guns were a problem during their questioning of witnesses.
Harford County Republican Sen. Robert Cassily said handguns inflict hundreds of deaths in Maryland each year. Just “one to five” deaths, he said, could be attributed to long guns.
Pacella thrust up her hand, spreading her fingers wide.
“There were five deaths,” she said.
Gerald Fischman, Rebecca Smith, Wendi Winters, Rob Hiaasen and John McNamara were killed in the June 28 shooting at The Capital’s former office, a few miles from where Pacella testified. The Capital is part of the Baltimore Sun Media Group, which also owns The Baltimore Sun.
Pacella, along with McNamara’s widow, Andrea Chamblee, sat beside Lee as she advocated for the legislation.
Pacella said she doesn’t want anyone else to face the post-traumatic stress she’s dealt with since she hid from the shooter between two filing cabinets. Chamblee said she doesn’t want anyone else to have to choose a photo of their loved one to be displayed on a memorial wall somewhere.
“We can't just throw up our hands,” Chamblee testified. “We know what to do to fix this. We know.”
Dozens of others signed up to speak about the legislation, and waited hours for a chance to give two minutes of testimony before the committee.
In addition to Lee’s legislation, the committee heard testimony about a proposed ban on 3D printed guns and guns assembled from kits, known as “ghost guns.” Democratic leaders in Annapolis have made banning these types of weapons a priority for the General Assembly session.
The speakers divided into clear camps inside the hearing room. The crowd in red T-shirts — Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense in America — came to support stronger protections.
On the other side was a throng of people dressed in white, with shirts reading: “We will not comply.” They opposed what they saw as attempts to limit their constitutional right to bear arms.
During the hearing, senators referenced Maryland’s already strict gun laws. The state has banned assault weapons and bump stocks, along with creating a “red flag” law to remove guns in some emergency situations.
Gun rights activists questioned how far Maryland needs to go.
“You cannot legislate evil or criminal intent,” Frederick County Sheriff Charles Jenkins told senators. “We’ve proven that.”
Lee said the state must keep strengthening protections. She pointed to her bill’s long list of exceptions, saying it is not a “mechanism to take guns away from people who lawfully own and use them.”
“One death,” she said, “is too many deaths.”