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Guns rights advocates, Md. Democrats push forward with their agendas

Dan Miller, who lives near Baltimore, stands outside the Maryland State House with a sign in support of Second Amendment rights on Feb. 7, 2023, in Annapolis, where bill hearings were scheduled on gun control measures. (AP Photo/Brian Witte)

Dan Miller, who lives near Baltimore, stands outside the Maryland State House with a sign in support of Second Amendment rights on Feb. 7, 2023, in Annapolis, where bill hearings were scheduled on gun control measures. (AP Photo/Brian Witte)

ANNAPOLIS — Members of the Senate Judicial Proceedings Committee held a hearing on a number of gun safety bills they hope will address the fallout of a recent Supreme Court decision that has caused a surge in applications for concealed carry permits.

Opponents of the bills said they are eager for the bills to pass so they can challenge them in court.

“It’s going to fail when I sue,” said Mark Pennak, an attorney whose group, Maryland Shall Issue, is challenging in U.S. District Court a Montgomery County law that bans gun possession within 100 yards of a “place of public assembly.”

“You say that every year and unfortunately you’ve been right a couple of times,” said Sen. Will Smith, D-Montgomery and chair of the Senate Judicial Proceedings Committee.

Pennak and other advocates found themselves playing catch-up Tuesday. Hours before the hearing, Sen. Jeff Waldstreicher, D-Montgomery and the lead sponsor of Senate Bill 1, revised the original draft of legislation. The new 16-page bill appears to be an attempt to be more compliant with a June Supreme Court decision that ended Maryland’s good-and-substantial reason requirement to obtain a wear and carry permit.

John Josselym of the gun owners group 2A Maryland called the bill “a mashup. It’s an example of something that’s been hastily put together.”

Waldstreicher said the bill was needed to address the surge of wear-and-carry permit applications in the wake of the Supreme Court decision in New York State Rifle & Pistol Association Inc. v. Bruen.

“More guns getting licensed means more guns getting lost lost, more guns being used for suicide as we’ve discussed today, more guns being stolen and more guns getting out into the hands of criminals,” said Waldstreicher.

Gun rights advocates have had little to be happy about in Maryland until recently. In the past, the overwhelmingly Democratic legislature has largely passed restrictions at will. Democratic governors signed those bills and those that were vetoed by Republican executives were easily overridden.

Those changes have forced the groups to go to court.

Changes made to the makeup of the Supreme Court have tilted the panel to the right. Last summer, the high court struck down the New York law. Maryland’s law, which was similar to New York, was also effectively ended by the ruling.

In the New York ruling, the court laid out a new standard that effectively limits gun restrictions to those that are historical analogues of what was in place in 1791.

“It doesn’t have to be verbatim,” said Samuel Levy, senior counsel for Everytown for Gun Safety. “It doesn’t have to be letter for letter. It has to be sufficiently analogous.”

Some on the committee, including Sens. Chris West and  Mary-Dulany James, a Republican and Democrat respectively, were frustrated by Levy’s inability to provide historical comparisons to parts of the bill.

“Most of my questions are probably answerable because I want to have a line of questioning, which asks, on what basis do you contend that this provision is constitutional?” said West. “And if your argument in response is going to be what’s analogous to something which was in effect in 1791, but I don’t know what that was and I have to get back to you later on, I’m afraid my line of questioning is going to be relatively useless.”

In Waldstreicher’s revised bill, he eliminates the use of the phrase “public accommodation.”

Instead, his new proposal seeks to ban guns from a long list of specifically defined “sensitive spaces’ including children’s camps, day care facilities, nursing homes, courthouses, government buildings and schools. The bill would also make it illegal for a permit holder to carry a gun on private property without the owner’s express permission.

The proposal also calls for additional training requirements. The state police superintendent is given wide latitude to investigate applicants and require as many as four character references. Denials for a license can be made even on the basis of crimes for which the applicant was charged but never convicted.

Opponents said the bill is similar to a recent New York law that has been struck down in an initial court ruling.  They called Waldstreicher’s bill an attempt to smother legally permitted gun owners.

Some who opposed the proposed law were chastised by the chairman of the committee for wearing stickers featuring the Star of David and a handgun. The large yellow star was reminiscent of badges the Nazis forced Jews to wear on their outer clothing at all times while in public.

Senate President Bill Ferguson said he was also troubled by a sign used by protesters that read: “Waldstreicher wants to party like it’s 1938.”

Waldstreicher is Jewish.

“They have a connotation and I think it’s, it’s out of line,” Ferguson said. “It’s antithetical to democracy. It’s the tyranny of fear. That’s not advocacy.”

Paul Brockman, a spokesman for the group pro Second Amendment group Patriot Picket, said the star — which he wore — and the sign were “the exact opposite” of antisemitic.

“Nobody likes to reference what happened during the holocaust and everything but what’s the first thing that Hitler did to the Jews?” said Brockman. “He disarmed them, which is basically what Senator Waldstreicher wants to do, to all us lawful, permit-holding gun owners. I mean, if I can’t carry a gun within 100 feet of a public place of public accommodation, what’s he done to me?”

Sen. Will Smith, D-Montgomery and chair of the committee, called the symbols disgusting and publicly chastised one man for wearing one while testifying.

“If that’s a Holocaust reference I was personally offended, and I think that’s disgusting,” said Smith. “If you have that on your person and you come up here, and I think that’s what that is, I just want you to know I think that’s highly inappropriate and disgusting behavior and it will not be tolerated in this committee.”

The man wearing it told Smith it was a reference to the Holocaust.

“Then it’s time for you to go,” said Smith.

Troopers moved in to escort the man out, but he let without further incident. Smith said the sticker would not be tolerated in the committee room.

“If you have something like that on, and it’s a Holocaust reference, take it off or leave,” said Smith.