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Maryland lawmakers give final OK to background checks for private long gun sales

Maryland lawmakers gave final approval Monday to a bill that will require all buyers of rifles and shotguns to submit to background checks.

State law already requires buyers to undergo a computerized federal background check when buying a long gun from a licensed dealer, and the bill extends that requirement to private sales and permanent gifts of such guns.

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The buyer and seller would need to go to a licensed dealer, who could facilitate the check for a $30 fee.

The bill’s passage represents a victory for gun control advocates, who have sought for years to eliminate what they believe is a “loophole” in background check requirements. Their advocacy ramped up over the last two years, and the legislation failed in the waning hours of the 2019 General Assembly session after the House of Delegates and the state Senate could not work out differences in the versions of the bill they passed.

This year, the Senate’s view of the background checks prevailed — which included not requiring background checks for temporary loans of rifles and shotguns.

The measure will now go to Gov. Larry Hogan for his consideration. The Republican governor has not offered a public opinion on the bill, which he could veto, sign into law or allow to become law without his signature.

Groups that advocate for gun owners’ rights fought against the legislation, saying that it imposed an unnecessary burden on law-abiding gun owners.

Del. Jeff Ghrist, an Eastern Shore Republican, said it was unfair to expect gun owners to know about the change in the law. He called it “one of the most unreasonable expectations I’ve ever heard.”

Del. Vanessa Atterbeary, a Howard County Democrat who sponsored the measure, responded that opponents of the bill often touted that they are law-abiding gun owners, so it’s not unreasonable to expect them to comply with the law. She said there would be plenty of news coverage about the law, as well as publicity from gun advocacy groups and gun clubs.

The Senate version of the bill was sponsored by Sen. Susan Lee, a Montgomery County Democrat.

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The advocacy group Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense in America applauded the bill’s passage.

“We are now one signature away from major progress for gun safety,” Moms Demand volunteer Danielle Veith said in a statement. “Requiring a background check on rifles and shotgun sales will save lives. This legislation is a huge step forward, but it’s certainly not the end of the road for gun safety in Maryland.”

Handguns are regulated more strictly in Maryland, with owners required to undergo a more extensive background check and training to obtain a handgun qualification license.

The bill was passed amid a flurry of lawmaking in Annapolis, as legislators worked toward an expected adjournment Wednesday — more than two weeks earlier than planned — due to concerns about the spread of the new coronavirus.

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