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Applicants exempt from qualification license

Residents who have submitted handgun purchase applications before new requirements go into effect Oct. 1 will not have to obtain a handgun qualification license, Maryland State Police said Tuesday.

The new law has prompted a huge increase in applications for firearm purchases, and a backlog has resulted. In the last two weeks, troopers said applications are coming in at the rate of 1,000 per day.

The agency said that troopers will not enforce the new requirements, which also include background checks and fingerprinting, on applications submitted by Sept. 30.

A legislative committee on Monday approved controversial regulations to require would-be handgun purchasers to fire a weapon at a test range in order to get a license.

In its 9-6 vote, the joint Senate-House panel rejected arguments of gun-rights advocates that the Maryland State Police’s “live-fire” regulations exceed the training requirements of license applicants set under a gun-control law that goes into effect Oct. 1.

The advocates, including Del. Michael D. Smigiel Sr., R-Upper Shore, said the 2013 Firearm Safety Act makes no mention of firing a weapon on a range as a condition of getting the license. A live-fire requirement was stripped from the bill during debate on the bill during this year’s General Assembly session.

But Tom Williams, director of the state police’s planning and research division, countered at the committee hearing that the live-fire regulation is permitted under the law’s provision requiring license applicants to undergo four hours of training. That training includes “a firearms orientation component that demonstrates the person’s safe operation and handling of a firearm.”

Troopers said as of Friday, slightly more than half of the more than 100,000 purchase applications received had been processed.

The agency began 24/7 operations in December to process the applications, but the backlog continued to grow.

Earlier this month, state police said 20 law enforcement officers from other agencies began helping with background investigations. State law requires that the investigations be conducted by police officers.

Troopers also said that beginning last week, 24 data entry employees from the Maryland Department of Public Safety and Correctional Services have been inputting information from applications. State police said several security measures were being taken to limit the access of DPSCS employees to the State Police database.

After a request by Del. Kevin Kelly, an Allegany County Democrat, Attorney General Douglas F. Gansler said he found “no legal obstacle” to the practice, since the extra workers’ role was limited to data entry — a task normally performed by the Maryland State Police’s clerical staff, rather than sworn officers.

Daily Record reporter Steve Lash and the Associated Press contributed to this report.