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Delegate: Gun rules too restrictive

Gun-rights advocates will return to Annapolis on Sept. 23 to challenge proposed Maryland State Police regulations that would require would-be handgun purchasers to fire the weapons on a test range in order to get a license.

Gun rights supporters representing the NRA stand along Rowe Boulevard in Annapolis to make their feelings known during the gun control hearings at the General Assembly in March.

Earlier this year, advocates were in Maryland’s capital city during a failed attempt to convince legislators to oppose the underlying gun-licensing legislation as violating their Second Amendment right to keep and bear arms.

The licensing law that emerged — the 2013 Firearm Safety Act — requires new handgun purchasers to go through four hours of training for the license. The law goes into effect Oct. 1.

Opponents say the statute makes no mention of firing a weapon on a range as a condition of getting the license.

The state police are “overly interpreting the legislation to be as restrictive as possible,” said Del. Michael D. Smigiel Sr., a gun-rights supporter who voted against the law and opposes the proposed regulation. “We are not a police state. At least we’re not supposed to be a police state.”

The proposed regulation would also effectively bar many Marylanders, particularly in major cities, from qualifying for a license because firing ranges are generally in rural areas, said Smigiel, an Upper Shore Republican. As a result, the proposed regulation would have a “disparate impact” on the ability of city residents to exercise their Second Amendment rights.

The law’s training provision calls for “four hours of instruction by a qualified handgun instructor; classroom instruction on state firearm law, home firearms safety, and handgun mechanisms and operation; and a firearms orientation component that demonstrates the person’s safe operation and handling of a firearm.”

Smigiel’s comments Monday came one week before a legislative committee will hold a public hearing on the state police’s proposed regulations for implementing the Firearm Safety Act. The Sept. 23 hearing of the Joint Committee on Administrative, Executive & Legislative Review, on which Smigiel sits, is scheduled to begin at 1 p.m. in the Legislative Services Building.

The committee had to hold a public hearing once Smigiel called for one. Under committee rules, a public hearing on an emergency regulation must be held if requested by a panel member.

Smigiel said he has no illusions that the public hearing will change minds on the Democrat-led, 20-member panel dominated by lawmakers who voted for the gun-control legislation that Gov. Martin O’Malley backed and signed into law May 16.

But he said the hearing will create a public record of opposition that can form the basis of a legal challenge if the proposed regulation goes into effect. That legal challenge would be brought Oct. 1, the date the law and its regulations would go into effect.

“We’re going to make sure that the police and the state understand the ramifications of what they are about to do,” Smigiel said.

MSP spokesman Gregory M. Shipley said the state police will defend the proposed regulations before the joint committee.

“We do believe that these proposed regulations are appropriate, but they are proposed regulations,” Shipley said. “It will be up to the committee to decide if they are appropriate. Ultimately, the legislative committee will have the final say.”

The committee’s co-chairs said they hope the people who testify at the hearing will focus on the validity of the regulations and not attack the underlying gun-control legislation, which the General Assembly has already passed.

“I would like to restrict simple venting before the committee,” said Sen. Paul G. Pinsky, D-Prince George’s County. “What we have before us is the regulation.”

His co-chair, Del. Samuel I. “Sandy” Rosenberg of Baltimore, said the hearing “should not be an opportunity to re-legislate the legislation” the General Assembly has passed.

“The merits of the bill are not before us,” Rosenberg said. The issue will be, “Do the regulations conform to the law?’”

The co-chairs said they support the proposed regulations, with Pinsky adding that they “flow from the legislation we passed.”

The hearing’s agenda provides 90 minutes each for supporters and opponents of the regulations to voice their positions.

Opponents, including the Associated Gun Clubs of Baltimore Inc., plan to hold a rally by the Thurgood Marshall statue in front of the State House beginning at 11 a.m. Monday. Gun-rights advocates held a similar rally as the General Assembly debated and later passed the Firearm Safety Act this past session.

John H. Josselyn, legislative vice president of the Baltimore group, said he expects the rally against the regulations to be successful.

“Would we do it if we didn’t?” he said.