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Md. Democratic lawmakers launch effort to remake state’s concealed carry law

“What kind of state do I want to raise my three children in?” asks Sen. Jeff Waldstreicher, D-Montgomery and vice chair of the Senate Judicial Proceedings Committee. “A state awash in guns, armed to the teeth and drowning in concealed carry permits?” (The Daily Record/Bryan P. Sears)

ANNAPOLIS — Maryland lawmakers Tuesday will take their first crack at tightening the state’s gun laws following a controversial U.S. Supreme Court decision that upended concealed carry laws.

In the seven months since the court decided New York State Rifle & Pistol Association Inc. v. Bruen, states around the country have struggled to make gun policy comport with a more conservative view on firearms. In Maryland, that struggle will include how to limit where guns can be carried now that the state’s good-and-substantial justification has been tossed out.

“We are in a new constitutional setting with a new precedent,” said Sen. President Bill Ferguson. “What the Maryland Senate does is we take hard issues and we work through them, and that’s what we’ll be doing on Tuesday, trying to make sure that Marylanders are protected from gun violence as best as possible.”

The “hard issue” for lawmakers is finding a response to the June decision by the U.S. Supreme Court that struck down a New York law imposing a “good-and-substantial” requirement for issuing concealed carry permits. The sweeping effects of the decision ended Maryland’s policy as it was “virtually indistinguishable” from New York’s law.

A number of states, including Maryland, are looking for ways to tighten laws under the new ruling. Many are likely to face challenges in court.

Sen. Jeff Waldstreicher, D-Montgomery and vice chair of the Senate Judicial Committee, said the decision makes states such as Maryland powder kegs for potential gun violence.

“That’s not a world I want to live in,” said Waldstreicher. “That’s not a state I want to raise my children in, and I won’t.”

Waldstreicher is lead sponsor of Senate Bill 1. The bill prohibits carrying a firearm within 100 feet of stores, restaurants, hotels, theaters and stadiums. The bill is one of nearly a half dozen that will be heard in the Senate Judicial Proceedings Committee in what is colloquially known as “firearm safety” or “gun day.”

Waldstreicher is also lead sponsor of legislation raising the legal age to purchase a rifle or long gun to 21.

Maryland is experiencing a surge in wear and carry permits since the ruling.

The Maryland State Police would typically approve as many as 14,000 permits annually. Since the Supreme Court ruling, the state has approved 80,000 — nearly six times more than what had been the norm.

“For me, SB1 is not a statement. It’s a question,” said Waldstreicher. What kind of world do we want to live in? What kind of state do I want to raise my three children in? A state awash in guns, armed to the teeth and drowning in concealed carry permits? A state where every small dispute risks escalation into violence, where a routine fender bender or shove at a bar, where dispute over a bill or a rivalry at a stadium becomes an invitation to murder, where I don’t know whether the man sitting next to me and my family and synagogue is carrying a semi-automatic weapon.”

Second Amendment advocates are already warning of potential lawsuits should the bill pass.

They point back to the Bruen decision, noting that the court specified just five places where possession can be prohibited: legislative assemblies, polling places, courthouses, schools and government buildings. Banning possession in other areas would require a “historical analogue.”

“I think this week, the 5th Circuit had a case related to interpretations of the Bruen case,” said Senate President Bill Ferguson. “And the standard is whether or not the regulation was applicable in the 18th century. That is ludicrous. We have weapons of war that have the capability of destroying people from hundreds of yards away that did not exist in 1780. It didn’t exist in 1790.”

Maryland Shall Issue, a group that advocates for more open conceal carry permit laws, is already challenging in federal court a Montgomery County law banning the carrying of guns in public parks.

Lawmakers also want to increase tracking of firearms used in domestic violence cases.

Last year, the General Assembly overrode Republican Gov. Larry Hogan’s veto of a bill creating the Maryland State Police Gun Center. The agency is tasked with collecting data on firearms-related crimes in the state.

Sen. Pam Beidle, D-Anne Arundel County, is sponsoring a bill that would require the center to begin collecting data on firearms used in domestic violence cases.

“It’s really going to be about tracking screening and vetting guns that folks have used in domestic violence, which is an important issue,” said Beidle. “So we’re going to sort of narrow in on guns used in domestic violence.”