After Las Vegas: Maryland’s Gun Laws In The Era Of A Republican Governor

Earlier this month, the nation witnessed another mass execution of innocent Americans at the hands of a well-armed gunman. From the 32nd floor window of his room at the Mandalay Hotel, Steven Paddock fired countless rounds at a crowd of over 22,000 attendees at the Route 91 Harvest Festival in Las Vegas, NV. 59 people had their lives tragically cut short and over five hundred others were injured. The state of Nevada has some of the least restrictive gun laws in the nation. On the contrary, the state of Maryland has some of the most strict gun laws in the country. In 2016, the Law Center To Prevent Gun Violence, a gun-control advocacy group that monitors firearm legislation, gave the state an A- rating. This score was based on Maryland’s 11.8 gun death rate, a 27 out of 50 ranking amongst states, and the level of restrictiveness of their current gun laws.

Some of the laws cited in the advocacy group’s snapshot of Maryland included: (1) mandatory gun safety for certain firearms, (2) a limit on how many firearms can be purchased at once, (3) and design safety standards on specific handguns. Maryland Republican Governor Larry Hogan has mostly shied away from discussing gun laws. During his campaign for governor in 2014, he failed to release the questionnaire that he filled out for the National Rifle Association, which endorsed his bid for the governor’s mansion and rewarded him with an A- rating. Under current law, the Maryland State Police outlines the following requirements for individuals applying for the MSP-issued Handgun Wear and Carry Permit:

• Must be at least 18 years of age.

• Has not been convicted of a felony or a misdemeanor for which a sentence of imprisonment for more than one year has been imposed; or convicted of a criminal offense for which you could have been sentenced to more than 2 years incarceration.

• Has not been convicted of a crime involving the possession, use, or distribution of a controlled dangerous substance;

• Is not presently an alcoholic, addict, or habitual user of a controlled dangerous substance unless under legitimate medical direction;

• Based on an investigation, has not exhibited a propensity for violence or instability that may reasonably render the person’s possession of a handgun a danger to the person or others;

• Has a good and substantial reason to wear, carry, or transport a handgun, such as finding that the permit is necessary as a reasonable precaution against danger.

• Has successfully completed the Maryland State Police approved firearms training course within 2 year prior to submitting the original or renewal application.

Despite the long tradition of entrusting the state police with the responsibility of overseeing the gun permit issuance process, the state’s Handgun Permit Review Board has recently posed a threat of overturning much of the long-standing policy that has earned Maryland its reputation. The Handgun Permit Review Board, established in 1972, reviews decisions made by the Maryland State Police in regards to handgun permits. The five-member, governor-appointed board exists as a resource for applicants who have had their application rejected, limited or had their permit revoked by the Maryland State Police. Upon hearing an appeal, the board has the power to sustain, reverse or simply modify the decision made by the superintendent. This panel has been susceptible to criticism by gun control advocates that feel that they are too willing to overturn state police recommendations during the appeal process.

There has been talk of eliminating the review board and transferring the responsibility to administrative judges. A potential shift in responsibility to the judiciary has already garnered support, including that of Jen Pauliukonis, president of Marylanders to Prevent Gun Violence. She believes that such a move would remove politics out of the gun safety process, bringing an end to a partisan review board that “has overturned more recommendations from state troopers to deny permits since Governor Larry Hogan took office and reshaped the panel.”

Regardless of which governing body handles the permit review appeals process, two of the nation’s most influential gun control advocacy organizations are calling for more action to be taken. Earlier this year, members of the Maryland chapter of Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense in America, a branch of Everytown for Gun Safety, stood with Maryland House and Senate leadership at a press conference to voice their support for several proposed gun safety bills. Senate Bill 943 would establish a process for collection of firearms from convicted domestic abusers. Senate Bill 944 would improve enforcement of current laws by providing local law enforcement the vital tools needed to pursue criminals who unlawfully try to purchase firearms. Lastly, Senate Bill 947 would institute a mandatory criminal background check upon all sales of rifles and shotguns. Jennifer Stapleton, volunteer leader of the Maryland chapter of Moms Demand Action, expressed her rationale for supporting these pieces of legislation. “It is simply wrong that in a state like Maryland certain types of guns still aren’t subject to background checks – it is just plain sensible policy that all guns sold in Maryland should go through basic safety checks.” A March 2016 poll showed that 94 percent of likely Maryland voters were in favor of criminal background checks for gun sales; showing it’s not only sensible but popular to enact common sense gun safety laws. Advocacy groups and Marylanders alike agree – gun control laws are beneficial to our state and public safety.