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Cardin wants tighter gun law

Prospective gun owners might have to wait longer to take possession of their handguns under a bill proposed by Del. Jon Cardin.

Del. Jon Cardin, D-Baltimore County

Cardin, D-Baltimore County, proposed Thursday to close what he said was “a gaping gun control loophole” in recently changed state gun law that allows purchasers to take possession of their handgun if the Maryland State Police fail to complete a background check within the required seven-day period.

The delegate is also proposing to earmark sales taxes generated from the sales of ammunition and weapons to mental health programs.

“Our work’s incomplete,” said Cardin, who is running for attorney general in 2014. “Last year’s gun law allows a seller to give someone a gun without a completed background check.

“This year alone, the state police have recorded at least 70 instances where someone acquired a handgun and only afterwards did the state police find that they were not qualified to own a gun because they were a convicted violent felon, they had multiple drunk driving offenses, they had a history of domestic violence or they had some sort of mental instability that prohibited them from receiving that gun.”

Cardin said that while none of those 70 guns were used in the commission of a crime, he is concerned that it could happen in the future.

“Your families and all of us living here in Baltimore deserve to know we’re living in a safe environment,” Cardin said.

Cardin said he got the figure 70 from the state police. Maryland State Police said Thursday night that in fact more than 100 guns were released under the provision to people who were legally prohibited from possessing them.

The bill has the support of the Interdenominational Ministerial Alliance and the Presbytery of Baltimore.

“It’s sad to see the rush to buy guns that happened in the wake of the passage of the law this year,” said Susan Krehbiel, director of congregational advocacy for the Presbytery.

Shannon Alford, the National Rifle Association’s Maryland lobbyist, said Cardin’s bill “lacked a fundamental understanding” of the current law.

“If the bill is introduced, we will fight it tooth and nail,” Alford said.

Under current law passed by the General Assembly earlier this year, all handgun purchasers must obtain a handgun qualification license. That process includes a background check and fingerprinting. Once issued, the license is good for 10 years.

Purchasers can buy one gun per month under state law. Each of those purchases requires a separate background check to ensure that the purchaser is still legally eligible to buy the weapon.

The Maryland State Police have seven days to complete that background check. On the eighth day, the seller has the option under state law to turn over the weapon to the purchaser.

Cardin said with the recent changes, the state police are experiencing backlogs in background checks of between three months and six months. The average wait is about 100 days, according to the delegate.

Much of that delay is blamed on a surge of purchases before the new gun laws took effect in October.

“The simple truth is no one should get a gun before they pass a background check,” Cardin said. “It’s a simple fix.”

Alford, the NRA lobbyist, said Cardin’s bill could result in buyers who are legally eligible to own a handgun from being able to obtain one.

“There’s nothing in the bill that says Maryland State Police can’t manufacture a crisis and effectively end all firearm sales in the state of Maryland,” Alford said. “A right delayed is a right denied.”