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Md. gun-control advocates want to strengthen ‘red flag’ law

Del. Geraldine Valentino-Smith, D-Prince George's, sponsor of the House version of the "red flag" bill that went into effect Oct. 1. (The Daily Record / Bryan P. Sears)

Del. Geraldine Valentino-Smith, D-Prince George’s, sponsor of the House version of the “red flag” bill that went into effect Oct. 1. (The Daily Record / Bryan P. Sears)

ANNAPOLIS — Maryland lawmakers say a new law that went into effect Monday may need to be strengthened to address concerns about juveniles who have access to fire arms.

Democratic legislators and gun-control advocates gathered in the state capital hours after new laws had taken effect, including a “red flag” law that enables families and law enforcement agencies to petition the court to temporarily take guns from owners who pose a risk to themselves or others.

Supporters touted the new laws as life-saving measures that could have prevented mass shootings such as those at a nearby Annapolis newspaper and another at a high school in southern Maryland.

“We’ve seen our community respond overwhelmingly with prayer when tragedy hits,” said Geraldine Valentino-Smith, D-Prince George’s and sponsor of the House version of the new law. “Although prayer is important, now in Maryland we have prayer plus — prayer plus the opportunity to seek an extreme risk protection order.”

Following the news conference, Valentino-Smith said the new law may need to be strengthened.

The new red flag law allows families, law enforcement officers and some others to ask courts for an order to temporarily — and in some cases permanently — take firearms from people found to be a risk to themselves or others. The law does not require that the person subjected to the court order make a specific threat to use a firearm.

“This law is going to reduce gun suicides, domestic violence, and reduce school shootings and community shootings,” said Jenifer Paulikonis, president of Marylanders to Prevent Gun Violence.

Valentino-Smith and supporters said the new law respects the Second Amendment, but many gun owners opposed the bill and criticized Republican Gov. Larry Hogan for signing it and a separate measure banning bump stocks and similar devices in the state.

Lawmakers Monday repeatedly recalled mass shootings at Great Mills High School in St. Mary’s County and the shooting at the offices of the Annapolis Capital Gazette that resulted in the deaths of  Rob Hiaasen, Wendi Winters, Gerald Fischman, John McNamara, and Rebecca Smith.

In the Great Mills incident, Austin Wyatt Rollins, 17, brought a Glock 9 mm handgun to school, injuring one student and fatally wounding Jaelynn Willey, 16. The gun used in the shooting was legally owned by Rollins’ father.

The law, however, does not specifically address incidents where a juvenile makes such a threat and lives in a home where there is an adult who legally owns a firearm.

“Once law enforcement knows there is a chance to use the firearm, they can go to the house and speak to the owner of the firearm,” said Valentino-Smith, adding that she believed most would want to cooperate with police. “If not (police), will look to other areas of the law to see if there are other violations of the law by the licensed owner.”

“That’s an area of the law I predict we may need to tighten up,” she said.

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