Gun dealers oppose Md. speaker’s bill to require theft deterrents

This article was republished with permission from WTOP’s news partners at Maryland Matters. Sign up for Maryland Matters’ free email subscription today.

This content was republished with permission from WTOP’s news partners at Maryland Matters. Sign up for Maryland Matters’ free email subscription today.

Gun advocates blasted firearm safety legislation on Wednesday, saying it seeks to criminalize and penalize licensed firearms dealers.

Sponsored by House Speaker Adrienne A. Jones (D-Baltimore County), House Bill 1021 would implement minimum security requirements for licensed firearms dealers to prevent stolen guns from reaching the streets by installing video surveillance and alarm systems, putting metal bars on doors and windows and placing barriers on the outside of their stores so cars can’t breakdown their walls.

The legislation would also require store owners to remove their inventory from display cases and place them in secured vaults or safes.

If dealers operate out of the bounds of the law, they could face a maximum civil penalty of $1,000. Second offenses would result in a misdemeanor charge punishable by a $10,000 fine or up to three years imprisonment.

In 2021, more than 100 guns were stolen across 13 robberies in Maryland.

Jones said that the intent of the bill is to keep “firearms out of the hands of criminals.”

“The measures have proven to be a success,” she said, pointing to a Baltimore County policy introduced after a spate of gun thefts in 2019.

Baltimore County Executive John Olszewski Jr. (D) said during the bill’s hearing in the House Judiciary Committee that 51 guns were stolen from a licensed dealer during one incident.

“That’s 51 more guns in the hands of criminals,” he said.

In Baltimore County, firearms dealers are required to have, at the bare minimum, video surveillance and alarm systems — “a similar baseline to what is being provided with the passage of House Bill 1021,” Olszewski told committee members.

According to the county executive, the jurisdiction has seen “marked improvements” in security since the local bill passed with bipartisan support.

The measure did not get a bipartisan reception at the House committee.

Del. Haven N. Shoemaker (R-Carroll), said he considered the security requirements onerous. He asked Tim Hafer of Hafer’s Gunsmithing in Hagerstown what the bill’s implementation would cost him.

Hafer already has some of the security measures that would be required in place. He said the barriers outside of his shop cost about $60,000 and his video surveillance system was around $50,000.

Opponents of the bill also argued that landlords may not allow licensed dealers who rent their storefronts to install some of the required equipment, making them unable to comply with the bill as written.

Representing Maryland licensed firearm dealers, lobbyist Frank Boston III said that gun shop owners “are on the same page” when it comes to preventing thefts, but the legislation goes too far.

“It hurts us,” said Boston. “The effect on small businesses is meaningful.”

“We know that it’s the Speaker’s bill, so it’ll probably pass,” he continued, adding that dealers just want a seat at the table in its drafting.

According to John Josselyn of 2A Maryland, the bill targets the wrong population.

“Instead of placing the burden on the criminals, we’ve placed it on the dealers,” he said.

Del. Robin L. Grammer (R-Baltimore County) agreed, saying that Jones’ bill serves to penalize small business owners with limited budgets who can’t afford the required security systems.

“ … They would be the subject of a theft and then they would be found outside of the boundary of this law, which would subject them to a criminal penalty,” Grammer said.

Mark Pennak of Maryland Shall Issue said a second offense would result in “a permanent disqualifier from ever possessing modern firearms or modern ammunition.”

“It not only puts them out of business, but it puts them out of business for a lifetime,” he said.

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