Please ensure Javascript is enabled for purposes of website accessibility
Crownsville resident Ray Miller testifies Wednesday before a Senate committee in support of a bill that would require judges to tell domestic-violence convicts to surrender or sell their guns. Miller requested the time period for when someone must relinquish their firearms be amended to more than two days. (Maximilian Franz/The Daily Record)

Judges would tell domestic-violence convicts to surrender, sell guns under bill

ANNAPOLIS – Legislation aimed at reducing gun violence would require trial judges to tell individuals convicted of domestic violence that they have two days to surrender their firearms to police or sell them to a licensed firearms dealers.

Judges would also have to tell the convicts that they have five business days to submit to the court written confirmation of the transfer, under the measure that came before a Senate panel Wednesday.

Senate Bill 943 is intended to ensure those convicted of “domestic violence crimes” comply with an existing state law requiring those convicted of violent felonies to surrender their firearms to law enforcement, said Sen. Jamin B. “Jamie” Raskin, the bill’s chief sponsor. He cited survey data showing that trial judges often do not tell convicted felons of their obligation to surrender their firearms.

The legislation “builds upon the current law [and] does not impair the legitimate Second Amendment” rights of law-abiding Marylanders, Raskin, D-Montgomery, told the Senate Judicial Proceedings Committee, on which he sits.

Sen. Jamin B. "Jamie" Raskin, D-Montgomery, the bill's sponsor. (Maximilian Franz/The Daily Record)

Sen. Jamin B. “Jamie” Raskin, D-Montgomery, the bill’s sponsor. (Maximilian Franz/The Daily Record)

Raskin, who is running for Congress, has campaigned in significant part on his strong support for gun-control laws, including his co-sponsorship of the state’s 2013 Firearm Safety Act.

The requirement in SB943 that judges inform convicts of their obligation to surrender their guns is a logical extension of that law, Raskin said, adding that the two-day period for surrendering the firearms is an effort “to create some pathways [to compliance] that don’t even exist now.”

Laurie Duker, of a judicial watchdog group, said requiring judges to inform domestic-violence convicts that they must surrender or sell their firearms ensures public safety and protects the Second Amendment rights of law-abiding citizens.

“Notification is the first step to compliance,” said Duker, of Court Watch Montgomery. “Defendants have the right to know they are disqualified” from owning firearms, she added.

Federal conflict?

Shannon Alford, of the National Rifle Association, said the gun-rights group supports the concept of having judges notify convicts of their requirement to surrender or sell their weapons. However, she said the convicts may find themselves committing a federal offense because the two-day period conflicts with a federal law requiring felons to surrender their firearms upon conviction.

Thus, domestic-violence convicts should be provided a method for surrendering their guns to police or selling them to a dealer that does not violate federal law, Alford said.

Michael Doherty, of the Maryland State Rifle & Pistol Association, voiced concern with the convict’s choice of surrendering their firearms to the police, who will destroy them, or selling them to a licensed firearms dealer, who will presumably offer just “pennies on the dollar” to the desperate seller.

“The dealer is going to look at it [the gun] and say, ‘you have to sell it,’” Doherty told the Senate committee.

Agreeing with that concern, Sen. H. Wayne Norman Jr., R-Harford and Cecil and a committee member, said the bill should be amended to permit the convict to transfer the firearms to a family member who would not be such a desperate seller and could get a fair market price.

Another committee member, Sen. Michael J. Hough, R-Frederick and Carroll, added that the bill’s reference to “domestically related crimes” is ambiguous and should state explicitly what those offenses are.

U.S. Rep. Christopher Van Hollen, whose seat Raskin seeks, told the committee that households with domestic abusers “see a continued risk of violence.”

The bill’s effort to ensure guns are removed from those homes is “a common-sense measure that will save lives,” said Van Hollen, D-Md., who is leaving the House to run for the U.S. Senate seat held by retiring Democratic Sen. Barbara A. Mikulski.

SB943 has been cross-filed in the House of Delegates as House Bill 1001, with Del. William C. Smith Jr., D-Montgomery, as the chief sponsor.