Where to shoot? -- Gazette.Net


Maryland might require applicants for a new handgun license to shoot a gun first, but it does not require the many private ranges in the state to open their doors to those applicants.

Maryland’s new law that went into effect Oct. 1 mandates those who apply for a handgun qualification license to complete a training course. Part of that course must include firing one live round.

Where applicants will be able to meet that requirement in many parts of the state remains a mostly unanswered question.

Of the 23 counties in Maryland, only 19 have ranges, according to a list published by the Maryland Department of Natural Resources. Baltimore city and Dorchester, Calvert, Howard and Somerset counties do not have a range.

Nothing in the new law or regulations requires private ranges to open their facilities to nonmembers, said Shannon Alford, Maryland state liaison with the National Rifle Association.

“Offering a firearms range is a wonderful thing to allow people to enjoy the sport of shooting, but it includes a lot of responsibility and a lot of liability,” Alford said. “It is to be expected that a number of them will not allow their facilities to be used by just anyone.”

Montgomery County is home to only four gun ranges, all private.

Currently, use of those ranges is limited. There are few parts of the county to fire a gun outside of a range.

At the Bethesda-Chevy Chase chapter of the Izaak Walton League of America, only members and their guests can use the range, said James Hubbard, the chapter’s legislative chair.

The organization has no plans to offer training for the handgun qualification license, he said.

Lee Hays said the Izaak Walton League’s Rockville chapter, where he is president, likely will offer its members training courses that meet the mandate, but whether it will open those courses to nonmembers remains to be seen.

In Damascus, the Wildlife Achievement Chapter of the Izaak Walton League is considering offering a training course for members, then, possibly, a course for nonmembers, President Chuck Crooks said.

“We’re still trying to assess the law and what the training encompasses,” he said.

Crooks said the organization has not seen the final requirements for the course and is concerned about liability.

Maryland State Police was not required to map out the course for instructors, spokesman Greg Shipley said.

The course requirements were set forth in the law, he said.

The law requires the course to be four hours and include instruction on state firearm laws, home firearm safety, and handgun mechanics and operation. Applicants also must fire a live round, proving they can safely operate the firearm.

“However, we have gone above and beyond and put a draft training curriculum together for qualified firearms instructors,” Shipley said.

Maryland’s hunter safety courses also would meet the requirements of the law, he said.

Crooks said the hunter safety courses are the only ones his chapter of the Izaak Walton League currently offers that satisfy the new law.

Unfortunately, hunter safety courses only happen around hunting season, and seats are limited, Alford said.

The courses are so limited, Alford said she had to go to Pennsylvania to take her hunter’s safety course.

Crooks said his chapter hosts about four hunter safety courses each year and attendance has reached record highs for 2013. He did not have exact figures available.

Hays said the Rockville chapter offers about four hunter safety courses each year, as well as NRA handgun courses.

According to the Department of Natural Resources’ website, there is only one more hunter safety course for the year offered in Montgomery County, and it is at the Rockville Izaak Walton chapter. And it is full.

Questions remain as to where applicants will be able to go to take a course that meets the requirement outside of a hunter safety course. State police have published a list of qualified handgun instructors.

Rockville-based Gilbert Indoor Range’s website says it offers a pistol course that meets the requirements of the law. A representative of the range declined to comment.

According to the website, the course will be held twice in October and November and is limited to 16 people. The cost is $125 for premier members and $165 for everyone else, and only covers classroom and instruction materials. Comparatively, a hunter safety course costs $5.

John Josselyn, legislative vice president of the Associated Gun Clubs of Baltimore, would not comment when asked if ranges in the Baltimore area were offering courses or opening their doors to nonmembers.

In addition to a training requirement, Maryland’s new gun law requires background checks, fingerprinting and a licensing fee for everyone purchasing regulated firearms — a category that includes handguns but not shotguns or hunting rifles.

The law also bans about 40 semiautomatic rifles deemed to be “assault weapons” and magazines that hold more than 10 rounds of ammunition. It also restricts gun ownership by certain people with a history of mental illness.