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Washington Co. residents add voices against stricter gun laws in Md.

February 06, 2013|By KAUSTUV BASU | kaustuv.basu@herald-mail.com
  • Opponents of gun control legislation in Maryland hold a rally in Annapolis on Wednesday as Gov. Martin O'Malley testified in support a bill that would bring stricter gun laws to the state.
Associated Press

ANNAPOLIS — Hundreds of gun-control opponents showed up in the state capital Wednesday as Gov. Martin O’Malley testified in front of a senate judicial committee in support a bill that would bring stricter gun laws to the state.

Among those crowding the Lawyer’s Mall, a public space outside the Maryland State House, were some Washington County residents who said they had come to voice their opposition to the bill and make sure that their Second Amendment rights are not infringed upon.

As crowds milled around the State House, President Obama was also in Annapolis on Wednesday talking strategies on gun control and immigration with U.S. Senate Democrats at a nearby hotel.

O’Malley’s bill, if it became law, would ban assault weapons and create more elaborate licensing requirements for handguns.

Other provisions of the bill include a $25 million security upgrades for schools in Maryland and wider data sharing on those with mental health issues.

“It [the bill] includes … common sense licensing provisions to keep guns away from criminals while protecting the right to legal handgun ownership,” O’Malley said at the Senate Judicial Proceedings Committee hearing. “It requires a license and a criminal background check to purchase a gun. It has a gun safety component. And it has other measures aimed at preventing criminals from obtaining guns.”

As he spoke, Maryland residents, some of them wearing stickers that said “Guns Save Lives” milled around outside.

Some had signed up to testify at the hearing, which was expected to go on late into Wednesday evening.

During his testimony, O’Malley emphasized that the bill, if it were to become law, would protect hunters and their traditions.

“The solutions we’re proposing are not about banning all guns or casting blame on everything but guns. They are about putting the focus on saving lives with a comprehensive approach,” O’Malley said at the end of his speech. “This isn’t about ideology, it is about public safety.”

The first question to the governor came from Sen. Christopher B. Shank, R-Washington, a member of the Senate Judicial Proceedings Committee, who asked about the constitutionality of the governor’s bill.

“I guess what I’m trying to see is to what extent the state by sponsoring this bill has justified that (its constitutional) burden. The burden falls on us if we are going to restrict firearms ownership,” Shank told the governor.

Gov. O’Malley passed on the question to Stacy Mayer, his chief legislative officer.

Mayer said that the Maryland’s Attorney General’s office was very clear about the constitutionality of the bill.

“Clearly … reasonable licensing requirements are protected under the constitution,” Mayer said.

According to an email sent out by the Governor’s Press Office on Wednesday, the state’s attorney general’s office analyzed the bill and said it was “constitutional under the Second Amendment” and “law-abiding gun owners have nothing to fear.”

It was the issue of constitutional rights that many people gathered at the Maryland State House emphasized Wednesday.

Steve Evans, a Hagerstown resident, said he was in Annapolis to stand up for his Second Amendment rights.

“My opinions is in the state of Maryland there should be nothing else done with guns,” said Evans, adding that that there are enough gun laws currently on the books.

With more laws, he might even contemplate moving to West Virginia, he said.

“We need to start addressing the mental health aspect of it (mass killings),” he said.

Joe Winter, a Keedysville resident and president of the Washington County Federation of Sportsmen’s Clubs, said hunters and sportsmen in Washington County feel that their traditions are being ignored.

“Our tradition and heritage in Washington County are being completely ignored by the legislators, easily dismissed in lieu of their political agenda,” Winter said.

Ray Givens, who represents the Western Maryland Sportsmen’s Coalition and was planning to speak at Wednesday’s hearing, said the governor’s bill was not going to do anything to enhance anyone’s safety.

“This law will wake up the Democrats who are pro-gun to the point where they will stop voting for their party and start voting for their freedom,” Givens said.

Most Washington County legislators, most of them Republicans, oppose the governor’s bill.

Sen. Ronald N. Young, D-Frederick/Washington, has said that he supports a ban on “military-style” assault weapons.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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