Maryland Democrats to revive bill banning gun sales to terror suspects

In the wake of the Orlando, Fla., massacre, top Maryland Democrats plan to renew a push to ban people on terrorist watch lists from buying guns here.

House Speaker Michael E. Busch said Thursday the legislation will be "a top priority" for next year's session, and he will call lawmakers back to Annapolis before then for briefings.


"You can't stand by and let these incidents take place," Busch said in an interview. "You have individuals who are unstable and want to do people harm. You have to do everything in your power to make sure they don't have access to the firepower."

Sen. Bobby Zirkin, chairman of the Judicial Proceedings Committee, said "it's a no-brainer," and he'll work to move it out of his panel, where a similar bill failed this year.


"As a statement for our state, I certainly hope that we pass it, and pass it quickly, next year," said Zirkin, a Baltimore County Democrat. "In order for it to mean anything, Congress has to act. … If it's only done in a couple of states, it means nothing. It's still the right thing to do."

The killing of 49 people in an Orlando nightclub early Sunday morning by a gunman who had pledged allegiance to the Islamic State has revived a national debate over gun control.

The U.S. Senate scheduled a vote Monday on four gun-control proposals, including two that would bar suspected terrorists from buying guns. All of the bills have failed previously in that chamber.

Maryland state lawmakers considered a similar proposal this year, but it died in House of Delegates and Senate committees.

The man behind the worst mass shooting in modern U.S. history had been placed twice in the Terrorist Screening Database and removed twice after FBI investigations, according to the Los Angeles Times. Federal authorities still are investigating the Orlando shooter's motive, but his ties to the federal terror list renewed calls to ban guns sales to people on it.

Presumptive Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump endorsed a ban Wednesday on terror suspects buying guns, a position that put him at odds with some in his party and the influential National Rifle Association, which argues such laws violate the rights of people who haven't been convicted of wrongdoing.

Hillary Clinton, the presumptive Democratic nominee, called for more sweeping gun control reforms this week.

Democrats had been pressing Republicans on the terror suspect issue since last year, when an Islamic extremist couple killed 14 people in San Bernardino, Calif. In December, Maryland Republican Gov. Larry Hogan dismissed as "politics" and "silly" a Democrat's call for him to issue an executive order banning such sales in Maryland.

"It's not an issue in Maryland," he said at the time. "No one on any watch list has ever received a gun."

Hogan spokesman Matthew A. Clark said the governor will review any bills presented to him by the legislature, "but our position has not changed."

In 2013, Republican New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, who is a political mentor to Hogan and an ally of Trump, signed legislation enacting such a ban.

Maryland already has some of the nation's toughest gun laws. It was among only a handful of states to ban the sale of military-style assault weapons in the wake of the 2012 killing of 20 children and six adults at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Connecticut.


Yet Maryland state lawmakers did not take any action in either chamber this year when faced with a bill to ban handgun sales to people on terror suspect lists.

Five people familiar with deliberations in each committee cited several factors in the bill's failure: new, controversial issues often take years of debate before moving forward; the American Civil Liberties Union opposed the measure, giving liberal lawmakers pause; the Maryland State Police told lawmakers they didn't have direct access to the terror list database; and the committees considering gun legislation also were weighing complicated criminal justice and police discipline reforms.

"This was an issue that was a first impression for the committee," said Del. Luke Clippinger, a Baltimore Democrat who sponsored the bill. "This is an issue that has only started to bubble up in state legislatures as Congress has failed to act."

The ACLU, which has sued the federal government over the lists, warned lawmakers in written testimony that "if the government is going to constrict constitutional rights, it cannot be done based upon an error-prone, due-process-violating basis."

Gun rights activists called the bill ineffective.

"To believe [this bill] will prevent terrorist acts is a classic example of what is known as the Pollyanna Principle, whereby excessive optimism to the point of naivete results in the inability to recognize the fact that true terrorists, like all criminals, have no regard for the law," wrote John H. Josselyn, legislative vice president for the Associated Gun Clubs of Baltimore.

Although state police investigators do not have direct access to the terror list, the agency's licensing division checks federal databases that would flag whether a potential gun buyer was on a terror list, spokesman Greg Shipley said. Investigators have never encountered that situation, he said. If they did, they would put the sale on hold and contact federal authorities.

"We have no intention of knowingly permitting a potential terrorist to purchase a firearm," Shipley said in an email.

Last year, Connecticut Gov. Dan Malloy said he would issue an executive order prohibiting people on terrorism watch lists from buying firearms. Six months later, on Tuesday, Malloy said he still is waiting for approval from the White House to gain access to those lists.


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