After Florida Massacre, New Urgency on Gun Access, School Safety in Md.
By Bruce DePuyt
State leaders in Maryland signaled on Wednesday that they understand the strong sense of fear many students and parents have regarding school security, and that they intend to act to reduce access to firearms and make campus attacks less likely.
Two weeks after a shooting in Florida that claimed 17 lives, most of them high school students, gun safety and school security now loom as two of this session’s dominant issues – and are certain to spill over into the 2018 elections.
House Speaker Michael E. Busch (D-Anne Arundel) testified before a joint House-Senate panel that is considering a measure to ban so-called bump stocks, the devices used by the gunman in the massacre on the Las Vegas strip. Busch told his colleagues, “There is no practical use for bump stocks in today’s society.”
Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller Jr. (D-Calvert) expressed frustration that the proposed ban on the devices is still working its way through committee. “We should have had a vote on that already,” he told reporters.
“We need a vote on people with mental health issues buying guns,” Miller added. “We need a vote on the age of people who are able to buy guns. The public [wants] to know where their elected officials stand, and we need to give them a vote on the important bills.”
The Maryland General Assembly session runs through April 9, and Miller pressed his committee chairmen to get moving. “If the votes are [there] in the committee, let’s bring the bills to the floor and debate them here on the floor,” he said.
Gov. Lawrence J. Hogan (R) on Wednesday announced $175 million in funding to improve school security, including secure doors and windows, metal detectors, security personnel, counselors and safety technology. The money would come from his proposed, but not yet adopted, casino “lockbox,” which would dedicate gambling revenues to education.
The governor also announced:
— A $5 million increase in funding for the Maryland Center for School Safety;
— Support for “red flag” legislation that would allow courts to strip persons deemed to be a danger to others of their right to own a weapon or ammunition;
— Backing for legislation that would prohibit someone convicted of domestic abuse the right to own a firearm; and
— Support for the measure banning bump stocks.
Hogan, who has been chided repeatedly in recent days by the Maryland Democratic Party and Democratic gubernatorial candidates for his “A-minus” rating from the National Rifle Association, told reporters at a news conference, “My most important responsibility is keeping the citizens of Maryland safe, and the most important responsibility we all have is to keep our children safe.”
The governor dismissed President Trump’s suggestion that teachers be given a bonus to take weapons training and keep firearms in the classroom. “I don’t think we should be handing out guns to drama teachers and biology teachers,” he said.
In an interview before the legislative hearing on bump stocks, Mark Pennak, president of Maryland Shall Issue, a gun-rights group, called the proposal a “hopelessly vague” and “utterly ineffective” piece of legislation borne of “raw emotionalism.” He said it would only serve to “criminalize the law-abiding.”
Sen. H. Wayne Norman Jr. (R-Harford), a member of the Judicial Proceedings Committee, sounded a similar theme. Noting that the vast majority of killings in Baltimore City are committed by people using unregistered firearms, he told the panel, “it’s not legal guns, it’s illegal guns” that threaten public safety.
Del. David Moon (D-Montgomery), sponsor of the bump stock ban, showed his colleagues a video that illustrated the difference between a standard rifle and one that had been modified. “This bill says you cannot take a legal gun and convert it to an illegal gun using technology,” he said.
Erin Moyer, a librarian at St. Paul School for Girls in Baltimore County, said he left a faculty meeting on student safety to testify before the General Assembly.
“Why are we protecting a person’s ability to fire more bullets at a faster rate of speed?” he asked. “I’m tired of having to look at students in the eye and tell them they are safe.”
Tom Harvey, a former Army armament maintenance officer, also expressed support for the bill.
“A bump stock works be pressing the trigger against a finger held immobile by the device, rather than having the finger press the trigger,” he said. “It’s a cute bit of legal trickery but the distinction has no real meaning. An assault rifle with a bump stock is an automatic weapon.”
He said bump stocks have “no legitimate use” for civilians because they were developed “to hose down an ambush when the enemy is hidden in the jungle. “It’s impossible to control,” he said.
The measure banning bump stocks is one of five being pushed by Marylanders to Prevent Gun Violence, a leading gun control group.
The other measures would:
— Have administrative law judges consider appeals when a concealed carry request is denied, instead of the current concealed carry appeals panel appointed by the governor;
— Clarify existing laws on gun transfers to include a weapon that is loaned from one person to another
— Boost funding for gun violence prevention programs, and
— Create “extreme risk protection orders” to give police the right to seize a weapon when a person’s mental state is flagged by concerned family members
Jen Pauliukonis, the organization’s president, told legislators Wednesday, “While something like [the shooting rampage at Parkland High School] has never happened in Maryland, we want to make sure it never does.”
The state has a long history of limiting access to firearms. In 2013, after the shooting spree at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Connecticut that claimed 26 lives, the legislature banned dozens of “assault-long guns.” A challenge to that measure was denied by the Supreme Court in November.
In 1988, the legislature, prodded by then-Gov. William Donald Schaefer (D), banned so-called “Saturday night specials,” small, inexpensive guns blamed for a spasm of violence in Baltimore, the city where Schaefer served four terms as mayor. That measure was petitioned to referendum, where it passed in November 1990 with 58 percent of the vote.