ANNAPOLIS — Bolstered by successes last year, supporters of stricter gun laws returned to the State House to lobby lawmakers for additional measures they said will make Maryland residents safer from gun violence.
Democratic lawmakers, backed by supporters who are part of Mom’s Demand Action, said they will push for more stringent gun laws in Maryland. Topping the list of priorities are two bills that would ban 3D printable guns and require background checks on all sales of rifles and shotguns.
Gun rights advocates say the proposals are overreactions and in one case a potential violation of the First Amendment.
House Speaker Michael Busch and Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller Jr. announced on Tuesday that an effort to ban 3D printable guns — called “ghost guns” by opponents — will be part of their combined legislative priorities.
Sen. Will Smith, D-Montgomery and vice chairman of the Senate Judicial Proceedings Committee, told supporters that lawmakers want Maryland to become a “national model” on gun issues.
“Now we have a situation in Maryland and all throughout the country where you can download a software package, print something at home and even augment guns that will be untraceable throughout the nation,” said Smith.
If the bill becomes law, Maryland could become the first state to adopt such a prohibition.
One bill, sponsored by Sen. Joanne Benson, D-Prince George’s, bans the purchase of computer software and plans used to make guns as well as computer-aided devices that could be used for firearm manufacturing. The bill also bans the sale of such weapons, which opponents say are untraceable and in some cases undetectable.
“Leave it to Maryland lawmakers to come up with new gun control legislation that, if passed, would have zero impact on crime and not make anyone safer,” said Amy Hunter, a spokeswoman for the National Rifle Association. “Federal law has banned undetectable firearms – so-called “ghost guns” – for 30 years and this bill would change nothing about that. As for universal background checks? They will never be universal because criminals do not comply with the law. Maryland legislators should focus their attention on effective solutions that deal with the root cause of violence, and they should leave law-abiding gun owners alone.”
Mike Doherty, vice president of legislative affairs for Maryland State Rifle and Pistol Association, said federal law already prohibits the selling or transfer of weapons that do not have a serial number as well as requiring that any gun, even those not made commercially, are made with enough metal to allow them to be detected by metal detectors.
“Undetectable firearms are illegal by federal law,” said Doherty, who added that it is legal to purchase plans to build guns at home but illegal to sell or transfer such weapons without serial numbers.
Opponents added that the expense of making one at home — $2,000 and up for the equipment — would be prohibitive for a criminal.
“Nobody spends $2,000 to go on a crime spree when they can go to North Avenue (in Baltimore) and buy a crappy handgun that would work nicely,” said Mark Pennak, president of Maryland Shall Issue.
Additionally, the bill’s prohibition on purchasing or possessing the computer software used to make the weapons could run afoul of the First Amendment
Pennak, an attorney, said he is prepared to file a lawsuit against such a law if it passes in Maryland.
Del. Kathleen Dumais, D-Montgomery and House Majority leader, acknowledged opponents might make a First Amendment argument.
“We’re going to have to face comments about whether we’re violating First Amendment freedoms as far as being able to download the plans,” said Dumais, who will sponsor the House version of the bill. “Is that information, and is information supposed to be regulated?”
Democratic lawmakers and their supporters Thursday also called for laws requiring private, face-to-face sales of rifles and shotguns to undergo background checks.
“It was a shotgun that was used to shoot into the window of the Capital Gazette (newspaper) and slaughter innocent people,” said Del. Vanessa Atterbeary, D-Howard and vice chair of the House Judiciary Committee. “It’s time that we do something about this in the state of Maryland.”
Jarrod Ramos is accused of using a shotgun to kill five employees of the paper — Rob Hiaasen, 59; Wendi Winters, 65; Gerald Fischman, 61; John McNamara, 56; and Rebecca Smith, 34. Ramos, according to published reports, purchased his weapon legally.
Maryland law already requires buyers of handguns in private sales to undergo a background check; it requires a separate check at the state level since licensed gun sellers and the Maryland State Police are barred from using federal databases to run those checks.