- The Enterprise
- The Recorder
The elementary school shootings in Newtown, Conn., have pushed the subject of responsible gun ownership and control to center stage.
Now, with the current Maryland General Assembly session under way, a group of senators and the governor are planning to introduce bills to address various aspects of the issue. Proposals offered by Gov. Martin O’Malley (D) and the senators would restrict access to weapons by the mentally ill. They also would ban assault weapons, lower the maximum allowable capacity of gun magazines from 20 to 10, increase the authority of Maryland State Police to inspect gun dealers’ inventories and add new requirements for securing a handgun permit in Maryland. They also would restrict access to weapons. The latter bumps up against a legal case that awaits a decision by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 4th Circuit — Woollard v. Gallagher. In March, a U.S. District Court judge ruled against a provision in Maryland’s carry law that says applicants for a handgun must provide state police with a “good and substantial reason” to obtain a permit. The appeals court heard arguments in the case in late October.
Currently, about 12,700 permits are active in the state. Estimates vary widely — between 3,600 and 15,000 — on how many new applicants would come forward if the “good and substantial” language is removed.
As for expanding state police authority, advocates say the federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives just can’t keep up with the task of overseeing gun dealers’ inventories.
Talk of gun control measures in Annapolis coincides with a similar push by the White House. Vice President Joseph Biden was meeting last week with gun control advocates and victims’ rights groups as well as the National Rifle Association and others to try to reach a consensus on the issue. The president would like a federal assault weapons ban that was enacted in 1994 but expired in 2004 to be reinstated. He also wants to address high-capacity magazines, among additional possible measures.
A state task force created by the General Assembly last session to study access to firearms by individuals with mental illness reported its recommendations earlier this month.
Among them, the panel is calling for all “credible” threats of violence against a specific person or group to be reported to authorities, including by mental health providers. Once a threat is substantiated, law enforcement should be able to seize firearms, the task force recommended. Currently, in approving ownership of a regulated firearm, state police can take mental health issues into account only if an individual is confined to a mental health facility for more than 30 days or if an individual charged with a crime has been deemed incompetent to stand trial or not criminally responsible.
An emotional matter such as gun control affords a great opportunity for grandstanding. What is needed at this point is deliberate, nonemotional discussion of all facets of the issue that balances Second Amendment rights of gun ownership with the right of individuals to feel safe and secure, whether they’re schoolchildren, shoppers at a mall or moviegoers. The legislation likely to surface in Annapolis should be considered in that light.