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Hagerstown City Council mulls weapons measure

Police chief: State's firearm law pre-empts most local government firearm regulations, and those regulations currently included in the City Code must be stricken

June 12, 2013|By HOLLY SHOK | holly.shok@herald-mail.com

With a section of the city’s firearm regulations requiring repeal because it is superseded by state law, the Hagerstown police chief wants to take the opportunity to “close a gap” in current restrictions by making it unlawful to possess and transport weapons on city streets unless they are unloaded and enclosed in a case. 

Police Chief Mark Holtzman told the mayor and five-member city council Tuesday during a work session at City Hall that the state’s firearm law pre-empts most local government firearm regulations, and those regulations currently included in the Hagerstown City Code must be stricken.

However, the state law does allow the city to place regulations on weapons, including air guns, blow guns, spring guns, gas operated guns, blow pipes, slingshots or any “other contrivance manufactured and calculated to throw, sling or discharge any shot or other missile,” according to a draft of a proposed ordinance prepared by City Attorney Bill Nairn.

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“Maryland law supersedes any local law,” Holtzman said. “The old ordinance for weapons lumped firearms and weapons together; this splits them apart. Firearms are covered under Maryland law, so they are lifted out separately.”

Holtzman said the city ordinance currently permits weapons to be openly carried, which has resulted in many 911 calls from callers who have seen persons carrying weapons, such as BB guns, near schools.

“What I’ve asked here to do in this ordinance is require those weapons to be carried in a case. Carry them, just put them in a locked case, and it kind of removes the danger we get called out for,” Holtzman said. “... We won’t have the 911 call that comes in because there’s so many schools in the city, and you see somebody carrying a weapon — everybody’s sensitive to that.”

Nairn said municipalities are allowed to regulate the discharging of both firearms and weapons. Under the proposed ordinance, both firearms and weapons still cannot be fired within city limits.

State law additionally permits municipalities to prohibit both firearms and weapons from “certain places of public assembly,” Holtzman said.

Designated places would be “conspicuously” marked and the restriction would apply to those with concealed-carry permits but not law-enforcement officers, Holtzman said.

The council could decide if and which places of “public assembly” they would designate to prohibit firearms and weapons and also choose to extend the limit up to 100 yards away from the designated places.

“You could extend that, in theory, to a public event,” Holtzman said, suggesting events such as the Blues Fest because it is gated, but not a parade, which would be too difficult to “police.”

Council members were not in favor of the 100-yard provision, and after further discussion, Holtzman agreed the provision probably would not work with the “makeup” of the city.

Council members also did not agree with the wording of the proposed ordinance as presented by Holtzman and Nairn during the 30-minute discussion in council chambers.

“We’re making it unlawful to possess a BB gun in your house unless it’s unloaded and in an enclosed carrying case,” Councilman Lewis C. Metzner said.

Holtzman said a clarification could be made to only include public streets or sidewalks.

Metzner also argued that the discharging of a firearm or weapon “for the legitimate protection of life” should be allowed and included in the amended city code.

Council members expressed concern that the new ordinance could “criminalize” law-abiding citizens.

“This is a larger issue than we’re used to being brought before city council. I think not only do you need to do more work on this, but I think the city council and the mayor is planning on having a public hearing on the product, and let the citizens talk about this,” Councilman Donald F. Munson said.

The topic is slated for a future work session after Holtzman and city officials make  revisions to the proposed ordinance.

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