Michael Busch, the Democratic speaker of the Maryland House of Delegates, made a number of incorrect and misleading statements to the Baltimore Sun in his editorial on March 7th.
The public is deserving of the rest of the story.
Mr. Busch states that signing the Firearm Safety Act of 2013 was one of the proudest moments of his legislative career. It shouldn’t be. Immediately following the Firearm Safety Act of 2013, the yearly average number of deaths by shooting in Baltimore City nearly doubled, from a pre-2013 yearly average of approximately 150 to a post 2013 yearly average of about 300.
Mr. Busch states that while the federal government chose to do nothing, Maryland did make a difference, and from that there is no denying: they made things worse beyond any measurable doubt. The most significant causal attribute here is the Firearm Safety Act of 2013, and the doubling of deaths by shooting for three years in a row following it is not merely statistically significant, it is incontrovertible.
Mr. Busch goes on to erroneously state “the Firearm Safety Act strikes the balance between preserving Second Amendment rights and upholding public safety, which has been affirmed over and over again by the courts.” The truth of the matter is Maryland’s courts first ruled both the “good and substantial” requirement for handgun permits was unconstitutional and that the Firearms Safety Act should be re-evaluated using strict scrutiny rules — not intermediate scrutiny — a far more lenient standard for the restriction of constitutional rights. It was only after the matter was appealed en-banc before all the activist judges that the decision was reversed. The Supreme Court has thus far refused to hear the matter, and that is not an affirmation by any means.
Mr. Busch then invokes the gun prohibitionists most favorite phrase that, “There’s a misconception here in Maryland that lawmakers want to ‘take your guns,’ and that’s simply not the truth.” Perhaps Mr. Busch can then explain why there is a bill in the General Assembly to prohibit anyone from mere possession of a standard capacity magazine in Maryland, much like California has done; which seems to be the model Mr. Busch and his party are pushing. California has just passed legislation requiring its citizens turn in most semi-automatic firearms and any “high capacity” magazines. Fortunately, the courts have put a hold on the confiscation of lawfully owned property in California until such time as the constitutionality of the matter can be decided by the courts. So yes, they are not only thinking of coming to take our guns, they have begun the process.
Mr. Busch then advocates for the repeal of the Handgun Permit Review Board ( HPRB). Before condemning the HPRB for overturning the Maryland State Police’s decisions, let’s examine how the Maryland State Police decide who does and does not get a handgun permit.
The Maryland State Police, in their Standard Operating Procedures for handgun permits, have a malleable definition for what they term an “Assumed Risk Position”, and anyone they deem in an Assumed Risk Position is given a permit to carry a handgun without question. Just exactly who is in an “Assumed Risk Position”? According to the Maryland State Police, it is only Judges, Prosecutors, Members of the General Assembly, and Police Officers.
In other words, any person active in an organization that can be of use to the Maryland State Police is categorized in an “Assumed Risk Position” and eligible for a handgun permit with no questions asked. Politicians provide funding for the state police, Judges oversee state police cases, Prosecutors allocate resources to try state police cases, and Police Officers from other departments can share information on criminal investigations with the Maryland State Police. This is not ethical and in fact is a breach of Maryland Ethics Law under § 5-505, Gifts or honoraria, which states: “An official or employee may not knowingly accept a gift, directly or indirectly, from an entity that the official or employee knows or has reason to know: engages in an activity that is regulated or controlled by the official’s or employee’s governmental unit.” It is completely unacceptable to condone this behavior by eliminating the HPRB oversight of the Maryland State Police.
The Maryland State Police have also instituted Napoleonic Law (guilty until proven innocent) with regard to handgun permits. The State Police have an articulation requirement which requires the permit holder to explain how they are not operating outside of the restrictions placed on their handgun permits to avoid being arrested. This effectively strips the citizen of their 5th Amendment Right to remain silent. Thankfully, the Handgun Permit Review Board often overturns vague restrictions which may subject an honest citizen to arrest, and only serve to dissuade permit holders from carrying a firearm. It is inconceivable a permit holder could be competent and safe to carry a firearm under one condition, but a menace to society otherwise. The entire process is designed to intimidate the citizen, and Maryland is the only state that talks about arresting the permit holder right on the front of the permit.
Last, the Maryland State Police have ignored all relevant case law with respect to the Second Amendment, including the two most recent Supreme Court decisions Heller and McDonald, but continue to reference ancient case law from 1980 (Snowden) and 2004 (Scheer) on their webpage which support their draconian restrictions. Further, they will not even consider the 2013 Woollard case “palpable need” standard which states “the good-and-substantial-reason requirement ensures that those persons in palpable need of self-protection can arm themselves in public places where Maryland’s various permit exceptions do not apply.” Additionally, the legislature never gave the Maryland State Police the authority to define what “good and substantial” means, but that has not stopped the State Police from appropriating the authority to define good and substantial in a manner grossly inconsistent with 47 out of 50 states.
The Maryland State Police state on their webpage that they are a paramilitary organization. Indeed, they utilize rank in their command structure, they operate out of bases (Troops), they prefer to hire those with prior military experience, they are heavily armed; and just as our armed services are commanded by the President, and the State Police is an armed service commanded by the Governor. Civilian oversight of the military is a fundamental principle of the American democratic process.
Senator Madaleno, Delegate Atterbeary, and Speaker Busch now wish to abolish the Handgun Permit Review Board, and only allow an applicant to challenge a denial in court; an expensive and procedurally complex remedy which is certain to be unattainable for all but the most affluent and educated applicants, and will disproportionately affect minorities and the poor – which is the intent. These individuals had no problem upholding the democratic principles of our nation until their ideas fell into disfavor with the voters. Unfortunately, to put it simply, we cannot have half a democracy. We cannot argue for democratic ideals only when they agree with our opinion and arbitrarily discard them when they fail to promote our own biases and agenda. This is an appalling, immature, and dangerous mindset for our leaders to take.
Mr. Bissett resides in Howard County and is the author of two analytical books.
Howard County, Maryland resident Brian Bissett is the author of two peer-reviewed books on Data Analysis.