Activists gather in Annapolis as hearings begin on gun control

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By MICHAEL CHARLES and MICHELLE LARKI

ANNAPOLIS, Maryland — Bills to tighten up Maryland’s gun laws brought out protests and activists Tuesday as more than 300 people signed up to speak to five gun control proposals to put an age limit on rifle possession, create a voluntary registration system to keep guns from suicidal people and restrict where guns can be carried throughout the state.

“If this (gun control) does get passed, it’s going to be struck down and all they’re going to do is cost the Maryland taxpayer tons of money defending it in court. Don’t pass this unconstitutional law,” said Paul Brockman, a self-employed contractor from Hanover, Maryland, and spokesperson for The Patriot Picket, an Annapolis Second Amendment activist group. “These are the most lawful, law-abiding people out here, and they want to take away our ability to carry a gun to defend ourselves.”

Brockman and a half-dozen other picketers were in the vanguard of protesters Tuesday morning on Rowe Boulevard and Taylor Avenue waving signs at incoming commuters. A few dozen more protesters joined them on Lawyer’s Mall later.

Their view is not shared by the chief sponsor of the bulk of the gun control legislation heard Tuesday.

“The real question that my committee is going to face is what kind of world do we want to live in?” said Sen. Jeff Waldstreicher, D-Montgomery, a member of the Senate Judicial Proceedings Committee, which conducted hearings on the bills Tuesday. “What kind of state do we want to raise our children in? A state awash in guns, where every dispute of a routine nature can turn into violence?”

Waldstreicher sponsored probably the most controversial bill, SB 0001, The Gun Safety Act, which would prohibit an individual from knowingly wearing, carrying or transporting a firearm onto another person’s property without consent. It would also prohibit anyone from wearing, carrying or transporting a firearm within 100 feet of certain places of public accommodation, specifically “sensitive” places, such as restaurants, lodging areas, stadiums or retailers, according to the bill.

Lawmakers said The Gun Safety Act will fill the void in gun control that formed following the Supreme Court’s decision in NYSRPA v. Bruen. The court decided in that case that law-abiding citizens do not need a “good and substantial” reason to be permitted to carry a concealed weapon and that this “proper cause to carry” requirement, used in several states, including Maryland, was unconstitutional according to the 14th Amendment.

Waldstreicher told Capital News Service that he’s rewritten the bill based on concerns from colleagues and he’s confident it will withstand any constitutional scrutiny.

The Judicial Proceedings Committee also discussed SB 0159, SB 0086 and SB 0113, all of which pertain to gun control. SB 0159, sponsored by Sen. Shelly Hettleman, D-Baltimore, would require the State Police to create a “Maryland Voluntary Do Not Sell Firearm Registry,” listing individuals who may have been convicted of a disqualifying crime or felony, have a substance abuse or drinking problem or who suffer from a mental health disorder. Individuals prone to mental disorders or suicide may voluntarily add themselves to this registry for their own safety.

“Every study that has examined the issue of firearm access as a risk factor for suicide has found that within the U.S., access to firearms is associated with an increased suicide risk. Guns are simply more lethal than other suicide means. They’re quick, and they’re irreversible. About 85% of attempts with a firearm are fatal,” said Karen Herren, executive director of Marylanders to Prevent Gun Violence. “Nine out of 10 people who attempt suicide and survive will not go on to die by suicide at a later date, so reducing access to lethal means matters. This bill is about reducing access to those who choose to do so.”

SB 0086, again sponsored by Waldstreicher,  aims to halt individuals under age 21 from accessing ammunition and prevent them from possessing a rifle or shotgun, barring special circumstances, such as with a parent’s permission, as an active member of the military, for employment, or for marksmanship training, among other reasons.

The Gun Industry Accountability Act of 2023, SB 0113, also a Waldstreicher bill, opens up the gun industry to civil penalties for creating a “public nuisance” through the “sale, manufacture, distribution, importation, or marketing of a firearm-related product[s).”

Protests began with sign-carrying gun rights activists catching the attention of morning commuters coming to historic Annapolis and continued right up to the afternoon hearing.

Dr. John R. Lott Jr., founder of the Crime Prevention Research Center, said Maryland’s laws would be outliers.

“In fact, if you look across the country, there’s no state that adopted a right-to-carry law or a constitutional carry law that’s even had a legislative hearing afterwards to try to undo the law once it’s in place. There’s a lot of concerns and fears about things that might happen but look at the experience to see whether or not it happens or not.”

Nicholas Andraka, a gun-rights advocate from Owings, told Capital News Service that  lawmakers, particularly those from the more populated areas of the state in Montgomery County and Baltimore City,  are going after his and his family’s more rural way of life.

“We’re not going to stand for it. We’re done with that,” Andraka said. He pointed out the irony of the proposed age restrictions for shotguns and rifles, saying, “So you could serve two tours, one-year tours, in Afghanistan and come back and you’re not allowed to hunt without your mom and dad sitting with you, and it’s idiotic.”

Dan Miller, of Baltimore, said he came to the State House to tell lawmakers that there is no one to protect him and his family when they are going about their ordinary lives, so it’s up to him and his firearm.

“One way I like presenting it is that they say that I can’t protect my family and stuff in many places, restaurants and things like that, but at the same time, they’re not requiring that they make that protection available,” Miller said. “When we’ve had hearings in the House and the Senate here in the past, they have guards standing at the door protecting, but as soon as you come out through those doors and walk in the street, there’s no one, besides you, to protect you. … If they’re going to make it so you can’t protect yourself and carry a weapon with you, they need to make sure someone else is doing it for you.”

The issue got very heated both before and after the hearing, with Waldstreicher, who is Jewish, accusing gun rights protesters of anti-Semitism for a sign that read: “WALDSTREICHER WANTS TO PARTY LIKE IT’S 1938.” One protester explained that the sign actually meant the opposite – that the lawmakers were taking away the right to bear arms as the Nazis did before the Holocaust, according to Bryan P. Sears of the Maryland Daily Record.

Maryland Republican legislators joined the rally in Lawyers Mall to voice their opposition against the introduced gun control legislation.

“The Second Amendment and all of your constitutional rights are so vitally important,” said Sen. Justin Ready, R-Frederick and Carroll, adding that it’s not a partisan issue. “Keep making your voice heard,” he told protesters.

Capital News Service reporters Greg Morton and Jennifer Gable contributed to this report.