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(Maximilian Franz/The Daily Record)

Advocates say gun law under federal review is working

Advocates of a 2013 gun control law under federal review say it is helping to reduce fatal shootings in Maryland.

A hearing on whether to dismiss challenges to the law will be heard in U.S. District Court in Baltimore Tuesday.

Vincent DeMarco, president of Marylanders to Prevent Gun Violence, said early indicators suggest the controversial package has driven down the number of fatal and non-fatal shootings in Maryland.

“Past experience with similar laws shows us this works,” said DeMarco.

Opponents challenging the law in federal court said it broadly restricts the rights of private citizens to defend themselves because the law prohibits possession of commonly owned firearms and ammunition magazines.

“In flagrant disregard of this Constitutional guarantee, the State of Maryland has passed a law, The Firearm Safety Act of 2013, broadly restricting the ability of law-abiding, responsible citizens of the state to defend themselves, their families and their homes by prohibiting outright certain commonly used rifles and shotguns and standard capacity ammunition magazines,” opponents wrote in their lawsuit.

Overall gun deaths in Maryland decreased by 24 percent in the first five months of 2014, when the total number of homicides, suicides and accidental shooting deaths totaled 112, compared to the 147 during the same period in 2013, according to statistics compiled by the Maryland State Police and the Governor’s Office of Crime Control and Prevention.

Gun homicides, which totaled 108 in the first five months of 2013, fell to 89 in the first five months of 2014. Non-fatal shootings decreased from 235 to 211 in that same period.

DeMarco stopped short of declaring that the new law was entirely responsible for the decreases.

“That will take time and a whole lot more data,” DeMarco said.

The law, introduced following the shooting deaths of 20 children and 6 adults at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Connecticut, bans 45 types of assault-style weapons as well as magazines that can hold more than 10 rounds. The law also implemented a requirement for new gun purchasers to be fingerprinted. Maryland is the sixth state with a fingerprint requirement.

“Fingerprinting is keeping people who shouldn’t have guns from getting them through illegal straw purchases,” said DeMarco.

The fingerprinting provision is not being challenged.

Opponents of the law argue that prohibitions on commonly owned guns, including weapons listed in the bill, and the possession of commonly owned high-capacity magazines violate the Second Amendment.

The plaintiffs who filed the suit are Stephen V. Kolbe, a Baltimore County resident, Andrew C. Turner, of Prince George’s County, Atlantic Guns Inc., Associated Gun Clubs of Maryland, Maryland Shall Issue Inc., Maryland State Rifle and Pistol Association, National Shooting Sports Foundation and the Maryland Licensed Firearms Dealers Association.

John H. Josselyn, legislative vice president of the Associated Gun Clubs of Maryland, declined comment and referred questions to John Parker Sweeney, a partner in the Washington, D.C., firm of Bradley Arant Boult and Cummings. Sweeney and Shannon Alford, a lobbyist in Maryland for the National Rifle Association, did not return calls seeking comment.

In October, U.S. District Judge Catherine C. Blake refused to issue a restraining order after the same opponents filed suit claiming that licensing requirements amounted to “a de facto ban on acquiring handguns.”

DeMarco expressed confidence in the ultimate outcome of the legal challenge and added that he thinks the law is a model for other jurisdictions.

“I want other states to copy this,” DeMarco said.