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Local lawmakers willing to talk about O'Malley plan to halt mass shootings

December 19, 2012|By KAUSTUV BASU | kaustuv.basu@herald-mail.com
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HAGERSTOWN — Washington County’s state legislators reacted cautiously Wednesday to Gov. Martin O’Malley’s proposal to introduce legislation to try to prevent mass shootings but signaled an openness to having conversations about the issue.

O’Malley said this week that there likely would be several new bills in the upcoming Maryland General Assembly session that would deal with the prevalence of assault rifles, the issue of mental health and gun ownership, and school safety, the Associated Press reported.

President Obama said Wednesday that his office will soon unveil a set of measures in an attempt to control gun violence in the aftermath of the shooting at a Connecticut elementary school last week while Maryland state senators Brian Frosh, Bill Ferguson, Jamie Raskin and Lisa Gladden, who are all Democrats, announced a legislative package that proposes new requirements for gun dealers, new criteria for those seeking handgun permits and a ban on assault weapons, according to the AP.

Del. Andrew A. Serafini, R-Washington, and chairman of the county delegation, said it was time to sit back and have a conversation about the various issues at play.

“Like everyone else, I am deeply troubled by this heinous incident,” Serafini said.

Serafini stressed the issue of how Maryland deals with those with mental health problems.

“We have decided to treat those with mental health problems through our correctional facilities,” he said.

Serafini said he believed in the Second Amendment and states’ rights.

“We have to make sure that not another parent or a child has to go through this. This is a conversation we have to have and I’m open to ideas,” he said.

When it came to school security, Serafini said he was not excited about the thought of teachers handling weapons. “The question is how far do we go?”

Some of the governor’s tentative proposals seemed to have the support of Sen. Ronald N. Young, a Democrat who represents Frederick and Washington counties.

Young said he would have no problems supporting a bill that would take “high-powered” rifles off the market.

“These guns have only one purpose; they are made for killing. I always support people having guns to protect their homes. But, frankly, some of these high-powered rifles seem unnecessary.”

Young said guns should be registered, and those owning guns should know how to use them. “I know a lot of gun owners who do not mind reasonable constraints,” he said.

“From what I have read, it seems this school (in Connecticut) was as secure as possible. This person shot his way in ... you cannot have a system that is 100 percent foolproof.”

But legislating in Maryland won’t be enough, Young said.

“That’s where Washington D.C. has to step in,” he said.

Two Republican legislators who represent Washington County — Sen. Christopher Shank and Del. Neil Parrott — said it was too early to discuss in detail the issues that were at stake.

“We are still in a period of mourning. I think we would all be better off if we gave this more thought and fashion a comprehensive response,” Shank said.

He said that “everything is going to be on the table” when these discussions happen.

Parrott said it was disingenuous for Gov. O’Malley to “come forward
with a political agenda”  in the face of a national tragedy, and said
that Maryland needs to have a concealed-carry law so that citizens can
defend themselves in the face of danger.

Shank also stressed the need for taking a look at the state’s public mental health system.

Serafini, Shank and Parrott voted against HB 618 last year, a bill that passed and led to the formation of a task force to study the access that those with mental health issues can have to firearms and if existing laws give enough protection to the public.

Sen. Young voted for the bill.

A report from that task force, Gov. O’Malley said this week, is due by the end of the year, according to a report.

Serafini said that he voted against the bill because of questions revolving around how “we define mental illness.”

“It was also the way this bill was presented,” Serafini said. “How do you respect the First and Second Amendment and still protect all the people?”

Shank said he agreed with the concept of the task force but had concerns that any possible law in the future concerning mental health and firearms could actually deter those needing treatment from seeking help.

“It [the task force] wasn’t being set up properly and I had questions about its composition,” Shank said.

Parrott said that task forces cost money and not a lot is achieved.

“We actually need to do something,” he said.

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