At his final bill-signing ceremony of the year Tuesday, Gov. Wes Moore, a Democrat, finalized Maryland lawmakers’ efforts to put further limits on who can carry guns and where they can carry them — including prohibitions on firearms in public spaces such as schools, bars, restaurants, performance venues, polling places and more.
Spurred to action by a U.S. Supreme Court decision last summer that rendered the concealed-carry policies in New York, Maryland and five other states unconstitutional, Democrats in the General Assembly made it a top priority to pass new gun measures in the annual 90-day legislative session that ended last month.
“Fundamentally, what we know is the simple truth that unfettered access to firearms increases guns in our communities. More guns equals more shootings — whether it is suicides or stolen guns used to commit violent crimes,” said Senate President Bill Ferguson, a Baltimore Democrat. “I don’t want to live in a community where everyone is armed to their teeth.”
The bills passed largely along party lines, with Democrats looking for ways to restrict gun access and Republicans arguing the bills unfairly targeted legal gun owners.
Under the legislation known as Senate Bill 1, people licensed by the Maryland State Police to carry firearms will be prohibited from carrying them in certain areas starting Oct. 1. Those include government buildings, certain health care facilities, locations with licenses to sell alcohol or cannabis, stadiums, museums, racetracks and video lottery facilities. Exemptions will be allowed for some people, including law enforcement officers and correctional officers, security guards and members of the armed forces who are on duty or traveling to and from duty.
“Too often, violent crimes put families even further behind,” said House Speaker Adrienne A. Jones, a Democrat representing Baltimore County. “We can and should do more to protect them before and after they’re victimized.”
A separate bill signed Tuesday, House Bill 824, will limit who can get a license to carry a concealed gun.
Those who will be prohibited, starting Oct. 1, include people on supervised probation after being convicted of a crime with a penalty of more than a year in prison, people caught driving while impaired or under the influence, and those who violate a protective order. Also barred will be people with a mental illness who have a history of violent behavior, people who have been involuntarily committed to a mental health facility for more than a month, or people subject to a protective order.
The law also includes a measure originally proposed by Baltimore State’s Attorney Ivan Bates to increase the criminal penalty for people illegally carrying a gun from three to five years.
Moore did not weigh in specifically on the bills during the session but said he supported steps to tackle gun violence by limiting access to the weapons. Though Maryland House Republicans sent a request to the governor to veto Senate Bill 1 — saying they believe it is both unconstitutional and “will do little to curb the rate of violent crime in Maryland” — Moore put his signature on the legislation.
The National Rifle Association Institute for Legislative Action filed a lawsuit Tuesday against the state in U.S. District Court, alleging that the location restrictions under Senate Bill 1 are so tight that legal gun owners will be prohibited from carrying firearms in self-defense.
“The NRA is suing because this is illegal under the U.S. Constitution, but it’s also important to note these laws defy common sense,” said D.J. Spiker, the state director for the Maryland chapter of the National Rifle Association Institute for Legislative Action, in a statement. “You know who isn’t going to do all of this to get a permit? And who isn’t going to worry about where it’s legal to carry? Criminals. This law will only prevent law-abiding people from exercising their rights.”
A third top-priority gun bill known as Jaelynn’s Law also received final approval. Named after a 16-year-old from Southern Maryland who was killed in 2018 by a classmate who brought his father’s gun to school, it will require gun owners to store firearms so they’re not easily accessible.
Jaelynn Willey’s mother, Melissa, and two of her siblings attended Tuesday’s ceremony. In a symbolic gesture, Moore gave Melissa the first pen of the afternoon.
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“I will sign into law common sense gun legislation that’s showing that Maryland will lead: common sense legislation to ensure that a person can’t bring a gun into a preschool or a hospital or government office; common sense legislation to ensure that if you have a mental illness and have a history of violent behavior that you cannot get your hands on a gun; common sense legislation that will ensure that what happened to Jaelynn Willey will never happen again,” said Moore.
The gun measures were among 174 pieces of legislation Moore signed Tuesday at the seventh and final bill-signing ceremony since the General Assembly adjourned April 10. The latest batch follows more than 600 bills already signed into law, including the establishment of a new recreational cannabis industry, new protections for abortion patients and providers, and an expedited increase of the minimum wage.
The General Assembly passed 810 bills during the 2023 legislative session. Moore has signed about 800 thus far and it’s unclear if he plans to veto the legislation that has yet to be signed, or let it go into effect without his signature.
Other bills signed Tuesday include legislation aimed to help local law enforcement agencies afford body cameras and video storage, require most security guards to be trained and licensed by the state, prohibit false emergency calls to law enforcement (sometimes referred to as “swatting”), and address Maryland’s teacher shortage.
Moore also signed bills expanding the authority of Maryland Attorney General Anthony Brown’s office, including legislation authorizing the office to prosecute police for unjustly killing or injuring civilians. Under existing law, an Independent Investigation Division in the Office of the Attorney General has investigated all deadly police encounters since it was created, but the decision to prosecute was left to the local state’s attorneys.
The governor also approved a bill that will allow the Office of the Attorney General to investigate and prosecute certain civil rights violations.
“To the family who was denied a place to live because you have children, to homebuyers who are denied a mortgage because of where you choose to live, to women and Marylanders of color who work hard for a fair wage, but at the end of the day bring home less than their counterpart, and to the employee who is forced to remove a headscarf in the workplace: Today is for you,” Brown said.