The horrific elementary school shootings in Newtown, Conn., have pushed the subject of responsible gun ownership and control to center stage.
Now, with the current General Assembly session under way, a group of senators and the governor are introducing bills to address various aspects of the issue.
Gov. Martin O’Malley (D) is considering three areas for possible legislation: school safety, the type of guns in circulation in Maryland and access to the weapons by the mentally ill.
The senators, led by Brian E. Frosh (D-Dist. 16) of Chevy Chase, Jamie B. Raskin (D-Dist. 20) of Takoma Park, Bill Ferguson (D-Dist. 46) of Baltimore and Lisa A. Gladden (D-Dist. 41) of Baltimore, are weighing at least four measures.
The bills 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.
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 requires handgun applicants to 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. Del. Michael D. Smigiel Sr. (R-Dist. 36) of Elkton has reintroduced a bill that died in committee this past year to eliminate the requirement from state law.
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 has met 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.
Also, a state task force created by the General Assembly this past session to study access to firearms by individuals with mental illness recently reported its recommendations.
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 authorities 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, non-emotional 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.