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Challenges expected on gun-control laws

Sen. Brian E. Frosh, who has all but officially announced his candidacy for Maryland attorney general next year, could find himself — if elected — defending in court the constitutionality of the state’s coming gun-control laws. These will impose licensing and fingerprinting requirements on handgun purchasers, ban semi-automatic assault weapons and limit the size of ammunition magazines.

Gun-control advocates got their wish — as reflected in this poster at a rally in Annapolis — when the legislature passed a ban on assault weapons.

The National Rifle Association has already said it will mount a legal challenge to the gun-control measure, which Gov. Martin O’Malley backed and is expected to sign into law in the next few weeks.

If elected attorney general, the Montgomery County Democrat would take office in January 2015, about the same time the issue of the law’s constitutionality might be ripe for an appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court.

Frosh, who shepherded the bill through the Senate, said he would be ready to defend the law that he believes does not violate the Second Amendment.

The gun-control measure “will save lives,” said Frosh, chair of the Senate Judicial Proceedings Committee. “It is reasonable. It does not put great burdens on gun owners or gun purchasers. It protects law-abiding citizens.”

Opponents of the measure say the licensing and fingerprinting requirements impose undue burdens on the ability of law-abiding citizens to exercise a constitutional right.

“Imagine if we said in order to be a member of the press … we required you to be fingerprinted,” said Del. Michael D. Smigiel Sr., R-Upper Shore. “We would never stand for that. We would never stand for people being fingerprinted to exercise their right to vote.”

The law, expected to take effect Oct. 1, will require that anyone seeking to buy a handgun have a license, the prerequisites for which include being fingerprinted and taking a Maryland State Police-approved four-hour firearms safety training course within three years of applying for the license.

The law will also bar individuals from possessing, selling, offering to sell, transferring, purchasing or receiving an assault weapon unless they registered the weapon with the state police before Aug. 1, 1994. Individuals will also be prohibited from purchasing, receiving, transferring, manufacturing or marketing ammunition magazines holding more than 10 rounds.

NRA President David Keene told WTOP radio this week that his group will “absolutely” challenge the law in court.

“Much of it’s foolish, some of it’s unconstitutional and other portions of it simply put burdens on honest citizens who have every right under the Second Amendment to own and use firearms for legitimate purposes,” Keene said.

Frosh, should he become attorney general, said he could turn for legal guidance to the constitutional law professor on his Senate committee.

Sen. Jamin B. “Jamie” Raskin, who teaches at American University’s Washington College of Law, said he is confident the gun legislation will survive a Second Amendment challenge. He cited the Supreme Court’s 2008 decision in District of Columbia v. Heller upholding an individual’s right to keep a gun in the home for personal protection.

“If we have a facial challenge, the state wins,” said Raskin, D-Montgomery. “The court in Heller was emphatically clear that the Second Amendment protects the right of a person to protect themselves in their own home. People don’t have anything approaching an absolute right to possess [guns].”

The District of Columbia does not require handgun purchasers to be licensed, but does require that owners register their weapons. The City Council had required first-time handgun purchasers to take a four-hour firearm training course, but in 2012, the council changed that requirement to a 30-minute online firearms safety training course by the Metropolitan Police Department.

Randy Farmer, who owns FreeState Gun Range in Middle River, said customers are disappointed by the legislature’s action.

“They’re very frustrated,” he said. “All of us understand very clearly that none of these laws are going to make anybody any safer at all. It’s a matter of people doing things for political expediency, including the governor.”

Business is good at FreeState — which sells guns, ammunition and includes a 25-yard indoor shooting range — but “the hysteria seems to have subsided to some extent,” Farmer said.

Once the state sifts through any legal challenges or potential referendum attempt, Farmer expects another run on guns and ammunition — both still in relatively short supply after Maryland residents began hoarding ammo and buying guns before licensing and automatic rifle bans went into effect.

Farmer said he is not sure what the future of his business will look like.

“We’re not going to give up,” Farmer said. “We’re going to figure out how we deal with all of this, and there’s a chance … that it’s going to be so onerous that we can’t deal with it because of the suppression of citizens to buy guns and ammunition … and that’s going to hurt us.”

Daily Record reporter Alexander Pyles contributed to this article.