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Maryland Attorney General Brian Frosh wants the state's assault weapons ban updated to cover the type of gun used in a mass shooting last weekend in Ohio. The firearm used by the man who committed the killings in Dayton is projected Sunday on a screen during a news conference.
Maryland Attorney General Brian Frosh wants the state's assault weapons ban updated to cover the type of gun used in a mass shooting last weekend in Ohio. The firearm used by the man who committed the killings in Dayton is projected Sunday on a screen during a news conference. (Albert Cesare/Cincinnati Enquirer)

Maryland’s attorney general is urging lawmakers to update the state’s assault weapons ban to outlaw the type of gun used in the recent mass shooting in Dayton, Ohio.

“It’s a loophole in our law,” said Attorney General Brian Frosh, who as a Democratic state senator pushed for the passage of the Firearm Safety Act of 2013, which outlawed most assault weapons in Maryland.

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“It’s outrageous,” Frosh said. “That kind of weapon should not be on the streets, period.”

The man who opened fire Aug. 4 in an entertainment district in Dayton, killing nine and injuring more than two dozen others, used an Anderson Manufacturing .223-caliber AM-15 gun, according to police in that city. It’s been described as an AR-15-style pistol.

The manufacturer has not sought approval from the Maryland Handgun Roster Board to sell the exact model used in Dayton — the .223-caliber AM-15, according to Maryland State Police.

But the board, which reviews gun models for their quality and "utility for legitimate sporting activities, self-protection, or law enforcement, " has approved for sale a similar gun made by the company, a .300-caliber AM-15.

Officials with Anderson Manufacturing in Hebron, Kentucky, did not respond to a request for comment.

Frosh said he initially thought that the model of gun used in Dayton would be banned under the comprehensive 2013 Maryland law. But after further research, he’s concerned that it’s possible the model could get approved for sale here, especially given that a similar model is already approved.

Dayton Police Chief Richard Biehl said during a news conference the day after the shooting that the gun “was modified in essence to function like a rifle ... and to avoid any legal prohibitions.”

Biehl said he was concerned that type of gun was available to the public.

“It’s fundamentally problematic,” he said. “To have that level of weaponry in a civilian environment, unregulated, is problematic.”

David Chipman, a former U.S. Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives special agent who now works for Giffords, a national advocacy group founded by former U.S. Rep. Gabby Giffords, said manufacturers have created such guns to get around laws that regulate or limit sales of assault rifles.

Chipman said the kind of gun used in Dayton is not classified as an assault rifle because it has a shorter barrel and does not have a stock that reaches to the shoulder. A user can attach a brace or fin that allows the pistol to be fired from the shoulder, the way a person can fire a rifle. The Dayton gun was classified as a pistol, he said.

“This gun is, for all intents and purposes, the same as an AR-15 and it is absolutely deadly,” Chipman said.

A federal law, the National Firearms Act, requires a lengthy and expensive registration requirement for someone buying certain high-powered rifles, Chipman said. But when manufacturers create high-powered guns that are classified as pistols, such as the AM-15, they don’t fall under that law, Chipman said. They also sometimes can get around state laws that ban assault weapons.

The Giffords organization has advocated for a change in federal law so the government would regulate assault pistols the way it does assault rifles. Chipman said lawmakers must update laws to adapt to changing techniques in weapons design.

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“This was a foreseen problem that people didn’t take action on, and here we are,” he said.

Chipman pointed to a case in Milwaukee, where a man was found guilty of murder for fatally shooting a police officer serving a search warrant at his home. The man used an AK-47-style pistol.

Frosh said he thinks Maryland lawmakers should revisit and update the law to cover this type of weapon. He noted it’s been six years since the General Assembly passed the law and there have been changes in what weapons are available.

“It’s reasonable to take a look at what the law includes and doesn’t include, and if there’s a gun that should not be available for sale in Maryland yet can be legally sold,” he said.

Mark Pennak, president of the gun ownership advocacy group Maryland Shall Issue, said adding more restrictions on guns won’t succeed in reducing crime in Maryland. He said murders involving guns have increased even as Maryland has continued to pass more gun control laws.

“Banning guns doesn’t work. All you have to do is look at Baltimore … I can go up in parts of Baltimore and within 30 minutes get pretty much any gun I want,” Pennak said. “The ‘Let’s ban it’ mantra doesn’t accomplish anything.”

Del. Luke Clippinger, chairman of the House of Delegates Judiciary Committee, said he would investigate whether the law should be updated.

“I’m still learning about the gun. I don’t believe it’s on the [banned] list,” said Clippinger, a Baltimore Democrat. “I will learn more about why it wasn’t on the list and take a look at whether we should add it.”

Sen. Bobby Zirkin, chairman of the Senate Judicial Proceedings Committee, said the mass shootings in Dayton and elsewhere have him considering multiple ways to update state laws.

The Baltimore County Democrat said he would “absolutely” consider whether assault-style pistols like the one used in Dayton should be banned. He also wants to investigate increasing civil liability for individuals or businesses that sell weapons or ammunition used in crimes.

A spokesman for Gov. Larry Hogan, a Republican, did not directly answer a question from The Baltimore Sun about whether the governor would support updating Maryland’s assault weapons ban.

“The governor has long supported common-sense measures to keep guns out of the hands of criminals and the mentally ill, and we will carefully consider any legislation introduced by the General Assembly,” Hogan spokesman Mike Ricci said in a statement.

Ricci also repeated Hogan’s push for longer sentences for violent offenders who use guns, a proposal that Hogan has promoted with increasing frequency in recent weeks.

The gunman in Dayton used 100-round drum magazines that are illegal to buy in Maryland under the 2013 state law. The Maryland law bans magazines with a capacity of more than 10 rounds.

As a senator, Frosh was the leading proponent of the assault weapons ban, which then-Gov. Martin O’Malley, a Democrat, proposed in the wake of a mass shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut, that killed 20 children and six adults.

Frosh was elected attorney general in 2014 and has successfully defended the law in court against gun rights advocates who argued that it violated the Second Amendment.

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