County, state and federal officials want to export Maryland’s handgun licensing law to other states, billing it as a way to drive down handgun deaths.
Attorney General Brian E. Frosh and Rep. Christopher Van Hollen Jr. Wednesday, the day before the second anniversary of the effective date of Maryland’s law, said each will spearhead separate but complementary efforts to encourage other states to adopt similar legislation, which requires fingerprinting and a background check at the time of purchase.
Frosh, who spearheaded the 2013 legislation in Maryland, said he would send a letter to 49 other attorneys general asking them to push for the adoption of permit-to-purchase legislation. The attorney general said that despite Maryland’s efforts, gun violence in the state is still affected by more lax laws in other jurisdictions.
“We can only do so much,” Frosh said. “If we can expand the good work we’ve done here in Maryland to our neighbors, we can save lives.”
Frosh said a Maryland-style law would have prevented gun violence such as a church shooting in South Carolina. In that case, Dylann Roof is accused of killing nine people. The FBI determined that Roof should not have been allowed to buy the gun allegedly used in the crime but an error in the background check system allowed the purchase to proceed, Frosh said.
“The kind of licensing we have in Maryland would have prevented (Roof) from getting that gun,” Frosh said.
Van Hollen, who is running for U.S. Senate, said he will sponsor federal legislation that will incentivize states to create those licensing programs. His bill calls for federal funding to help states establish and run the licensing programs.
“We have a disease of gun violence,” Van Hollen said. “It’s an epidemic.”
The effort has the support of local officials, including Baltimore County Executive Kevin Kamenetz and Police Chief Jim Johnson. Both men supported state legislation in 2013, just one year after Robert W. Gladden Jr., a 15-year old student at Perry Hall Senior High School, entered the cafeteria on the first day of classes and fired a shotgun that injured a 17-year-old special needs student. The teen was later charged as an adult, convicted, and sentenced to 35 years in prison.
But Van Hollen’s legislation undoubtedly faces a difficult road in a Congress, where Republicans control both the House and Senate and gun-rights lobbies have regularly thwarted bills they oppose.
The push by Frosh and Van Hollen coincides with the recent release of a study by the Baltimore-based Johns Hopkins Center for Gun Policy and Research.
“The evidence is in and the evidence is clear,” Van Hollen said. “We need to act to the extent that we can. If we can have more states pass laws we can save lives.”
The study found that Connecticut, which enacted a permit-to-purchase law in 1995, has seen a 40 percent decrease in gun-related homicides over the decade following enactment of the law.
The study also found that Missouri, which repealed a similar law in 2007, has seen firearm homicides increase by 25 percent.
Daniel W. Webster, center director and an author on the study, said it is too soon to know how Maryland’s 2013 law has affected gun-related deaths in Maryland because only one year of data exists.
John Josselyn, legislative director for the Associated Gun Clubs of Maryland, said Maryland’s law is a failure and pointed to increase in shootings and homicides since the law went into effect as proof.
“What I saw mostly was a blind faith that somehow there’s a technological solution to a sociological problem,” Josselyn said. “Violence is behavior not technology. They tacitly admitted that there are economic portions, lack of jobs, lack of opportunity, poverty, that these were driving a lot of crime, yet there are no gun shops in Baltimore.”
Josselyn said he was skeptical of claims about how effective the Maryland law is and said officials are shifting blame to other states.
“You always blame someone else for your own failures whenever you can,” Josselyn said. “What we always see is the law they want, before it becomes a law when it’s only a bill, it’s: ‘This is important legislation. It’s landmark. It will save lives.’ Then when they do get it passed and it doesn’t, they say: ‘Give it time.’ They told us the same thing with ballistic imaging. We gave it 14 years; it was a failure. In another 14 years we’ll check on this and it will be a failure because it does not impact the criminals.”
Earlier this year, state legislators repealed the state’s 14-year-old ballistic fingerprinting law that only managed to provide identifying results in less than nine-thousandths of a percent of the more than 304,000 shell casings submitted to the database.
Webster and other advocates said they are optimistic that the state will see declines over time similar to what was experienced in Connecticut, but he acknowledged that recent violence in Baltimore City has led to nearly one homicide a day there while homicides in Baltimore County are roughly 10 percent of its neighbor.
“We all know there are some very, very unusual circumstances going on in Baltimore City,” Webster said, adding the city faces other socioeconomic disadvantages not seen in Baltimore County that can’t be fixed by gun legislation.