A legislative committee heard over 10 hours of testimony on a series of bills that would regulate specifically who can carry guns in public in Maryland, and where they can go while armed.
A bill that would bar guns within 100 feet of courthouses, arenas, hospitals, libraries, hotels and any other “place of public accommodation” drew the most testimony by far, at more than six hours. It’s sponsored by Democratic Sen. Jeff Waldstreicher of Montgomery County.
“Who can and cannot access firearms is a fundamental life or death question,” Senate President Bill Ferguson said in advance of Tuesday evening’s meeting of the Senate Judicial Proceedings Committee.
Waldstreicher, the committee’s vice chair, filed several of the bills in response to a U.S. Supreme Court ruling in June that struck down Maryland’s concealed carry gun policy as unconstitutional. The law required people to show a good reason to get a license to wear a firearm out of sight.
His bills include:
- Senate Bill 1, which, in addition to restricting firearms from being carried in many public places, would give property owners the right to bar firearms from their property and restrict people addicted to drugs or alcohol or suffering from mental illnesses from getting a concealed carry license;
- Senate Bill 86, to bar anyone under 21 from possessing a long gun, and
- Senate Bill 113, to allow the attorney general and private individuals to sue gun manufacturers and dealers for damages from “creating a public nuisance” by making and selling guns.
The committee also considered Senate Bill 185, sponsored by Democratic Sen. Pamela Beidle of Anne Arundel County. It would require the state police to create a statewide database to track guns surrendered under final protective orders.
Democratic Sen. Shelly Hettleman of Baltimore County sponsored Senate Bill 159, also before the committee, to establish a “do not sell” registry for individuals who sign up when they may be at risk of harming themselves or others. People who put themselves on the list could remove their names by submitting a request to state police.
Sam Levy, regional legislative director for Everytown for Gun Safety, testified Waldstreicher’s top bill would align Maryland law with the Supreme Court ruling.
“But it does far more than that,” he said. “It steps up to the challenge of how to address the dangers that are going to come from having more guns in more public places now that you have a 6- or 7-fold increase just in the months since the decision of people applying for and obtaining wear and carry permits to carry and load guns across the state.”
At a rally in favor of the legislation last week, Senate Judicial Proceedings Committee Chair Will Smith said state police had previously issued approximately 15,000 permits each year. Since July, the agency has issued 80,000.
Cecil County Executive Danielle Hornberger, a Republican, opposed Senate Bill 1, saying it “represents a clear violation of the Second Amendment to the United States Constitution.”
“The constitutional right to keep and bear arms and fundamental right to self-defense is just that: a right,” she said. “And, what’s more, it’s a right that, according to the letter of the law, shall not be infringed.”
The bill was divisive among committee members.
Frederick County Sen. William Folden, a Republican who is a police officer, asked Waldstreicher if the legislation would keep someone illegally armed from walking into a movie theater and sitting next to him and his family.
“If the illegal gun owner stands up — which has happened — and starts to engage a nonarmed citizenry, how many victims do we have, potentially?” he asked. “My hypothetical is we have as many victims as that person can carry bullets in that gun.
“If there’s one person that’s legal and trained — because the police can’t possibly be everywhere at any given time — and that person to the right of your family stands up and neutralizes this threat, how many lives are saved at that point?” Folden asked.
Waldstreicher retorted that his colleague’s hypothetical is not the “scenario that plays out.”
“What is happening is when guns are everywhere, regular, everyday disputes are being settled through firearms, and not only are those people getting hurt, but bystanders are getting hurt,” he said.
Before the Senate or the House of Delegates went into session in the morning, protesters arrived in Annapolis to advocate for their positions. Guns rights advocates parked themselves and their signs at Lawyers Mall outside the State House.
A man on a motorcycle did a loud lap around nearby Church Circle. Attached to the back of his bike was a U.S. flag and a white flag bearing an image of a rifle and the words “Come and take it.”
Ahead of the meeting, with more than 300 people expected to speak, Ferguson said he anticipated it would be “contentious.”
Smith paused the hearing at one point to address the issue of people wearing yellow stars, reminiscent of ones Nazis required Jews to wear. The stars of some pro-gun activists had images of guns in the center.
Smith noted Waldstreicher is Jewish, and the symbolism was offensive.
“If that’s a Holocaust reference, I was personally offended and I think that’s disgusting,” the committee chair said. “And so, if you have that on your person and you come up here [to testify] and I think that’s what that is, I just want you to know that I think highly inappropriate and disgusting behavior and it will not be tolerated in this committee.
“Really, the level of debate and discussion when you come up here with that, it devolves to a place that I don’t think anyone here in this room ever, ever wants to see, and I just want to make sure that everyone hears that. So, if you have something like that on and it is a Holocaust reference, take it off or leave.”
A person who was testifying began to address the symbol’s meaning, but Smith, who often displays a cool temperament, shut him down immediately.
“Listen to me: Highly inappropriate. Disgusting,” he said.
Smith asked the man to leave, took a second to shake his head and collect himself, and continued the hearing.
The House is taking its own approach to gun regulation. Judiciary Committee Chair Luke Clippinger of Baltimore filed a bill that bars those on supervised probation for crimes punishable by a year or more in jail from having guns, along with anyone convicted of driving while impaired or violating a protective order.
Maryland Policy & Politics
Also, gun owners would have to be at least 21 to wear and carry a firearm in public. The legislation would raise the application fee for a concealed carry permit from $75 to $150. Permit renewal fees would go from $50 to $100.
People who are subject to Maryland’s red flag law or a regular protective order would be ineligible to receive a permit, “which is more or less an extension of what the existing law is, but we make it explicit in the law,” Clippinger said.
“That’s kind of the bigger picture here,” he continued. “We’re wanting to take those steps that are important for public safety, while at the same time acknowledging a lot of this stuff is there. But we need to put it into the wear and carry statute, because we needed to have those objective standards — as the Supreme Court has said.”
According to Clippinger, his bill also has a provision for adults who improperly store handguns. Under current law, if a gun is improperly stored in a place where its owner knew or reasonably should have known a child could gain access to it, the penalty is $1,000.
Per his bill, someone convicted of the offense couldn’t have a handgun for five years. A second offense would result in a lifetime ban. If a child killed or seriously injured someone with the gun, its owner also would be permanently banned from gun ownership.
Clippinger is a prosecutor in the office of the Anne Arundel County state’s attorney and tries firearm cases frequently.
“If somebody has left out a gun that they knew or should have known a kid can get their hands on, you need a timeout,” he said.