Michael A. Sawyers
CUMBERLAND — Gov. Martin O’Malley unveiled in broad terms Friday his legislative wish list to reduce gun violence, but the part dealing with firearm restrictions is not likely to get much political support from far Western Maryland.
Besides dealing with firearms and their delivery systems, the proposal would create new centers that deal with school protection and mental health intervention.
“Today, we’re putting forward a comprehensive set of public safety initiatives that will improve the safety at our schools, make meaningful mental health reforms and enact common-sense gun safety measures like banning military-style assault weapons and limiting high-capacity magazines,” O’Malley said during a Statehouse announcement that is available online.
As at the federal level, gun control legislation was brought to the forefront by the murder of 20 school children and six of their teachers in December at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn.
Included in legislation that is still in draft form will be the requirement for a license, including fingerprinting, for the purchase of handguns. Seven states, including Connecticut, already require fingerprinting.
A license would not be required to purchase shotguns or sporting rifles, according to information supplied by the governor’s office.
Military-style assault weapons would be illegal and magazine capacity would be decreased from 20 to 10.
People moving into Maryland would be required to register their guns within a certain time. It is unclear at this time if that would apply to all guns.
“Guns don’t jump up and work on their own,” said Sen. George Edwards. “Chicago has the most strict gun laws on the books and look what is still going on there,” he added, referring to gun violence in that city. “In countries like Japan, Germany and England, where people can’t own guns, only the criminals have them.”
Edwards said the governor’s budget proposal for $25 million to increase school security with cameras, bullet-proof glass and restricted entrance makes sense.
“Banks and a lot of other places do that,” he said.
Delegate Kevin Kelly, who sits on the House Judiciary Committee, said he will vote against these proposals once they are formally presented. He called the language dealing with firearms “outrageous and absurd.”
Kelly said he anticipates that the licensing restrictions could be interpreted to be needed for the purchase of ammunition as well as handguns.
Kelly questions the understanding of many of his fellow representatives when it comes to firearms.
“You can purchase a rifle that looks like a military weapon, but functions only as a semiautomatic rifle that is used for hunting,” he said, wondering how many firearms could be outlawed under such a plan.
“It’s fact. It’s logic. The only people affected by gun control are the people who lawfully own firearms and use them in responsible ways,” Kelly said.
O’Malley’s proposal would strive to have the same private mental health information that is available to federal officials made available to state government as well.
Mental health intervention and crisis response would be expanded.
For example, mental health professionals would respond with police officers to the appropriate emergencies.
A Center for Excellence on Early Intervention for Serious Mental Illness would be established.
The Associated Press reports that O’Malley will seek to renew a DNA sample collection law for those charged with violent crimes and burglary.
Maryland’s highest court has ruled the existing law unconstitutional, but the U.S. Supreme Court has agreed to hear the case.
Delegate LeRoy Myers Jr. said the state is on the right track in that something needs to be done, but is concerned that there is an overemphasis on the gun issue. “We have to be careful not to take away our Second Amendment rights that we hold near and dear,” he said.
“We have to police ourselves,” Myers said. “You wouldn’t leave a loaded gun on a table where a child could reach it and we have to be aware not to leave loaded guns in homes where we have unstable individuals.”
Myers said he favors armed police officers outside schools. “If there are not enough available for each school, have a roving group that will be at one school or another. The bad guys won’t know where the officers will be.”
Delegate Wendell Beitzel said O’Malley’s proposal clearly goes well beyond that of any other governor in the nation.
“It will have tough sledding in the General Assembly, though I think there is a good chance some form of legislation will make it through.”
Beitzel, who is the co-chairman of the Maryland Legislative Sportsmen’s Caucus, said if semiautomatic rifles are made illegal he will no longer be able to hunt deer in Garrett County with the .30-06 he has used most of his adult life.
The delegate believes the deinstitutionalization of mental health patients who are on strong medications can be a danger to the community.
Contact Michael A. Sawyers at firstname.lastname@example.org.