Differences remain on gun bills, but Md. lawmakers working to meld them

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.

Maryland lawmakers say that, with less than two weeks to go, they are optimistic that bills they’ve crafted aimed at limiting the number of guns on the street, as well as violent confrontations, will pass in some form.

The House of Delegates and the Senate have each approved bills, but need to resolve differences between them for a measure to pass before they adjourn April 10.

Sen. Jeff Waldstreicher (D-Montgomery), vice chair of the Judicial Proceedings Committee, is lead sponsor on Senate Bill 1, dubbed the Gun Safety Act of 2023, which would restrict where guns could be carried, including prohibiting carrying a gun at such places as preschools, election polling sites and museums. It also would prohibit a person from knowingly carrying a firearm onto someone’s property without the owner’s permission.

The major piece of firearms legislation in the House of Delegates, House Bill 824, would put more prohibitions on who could possess a firearm, barring gun possession by fugitives from justice, people with a mental disorder and a history of violent behavior, anyone who “has been voluntarily admitted for more than 30 consecutive days” to a facility for treatment of a mental disorder and anyone who has been involuntarily admitted for such treatment.

Sponsored by Del. Luke Clippinger (D-Baltimore City), who chairs the Judiciary Committee, the House bill would also double fees for a wear-and-carry permit from $75 to $150, for a renewal or subsequent application from $50 to $100 and for a duplicate or modified permit from $10 to $20.

Clippinger, who has said that those fees haven’t increased since 1992, said Thursday the plan is to include a mixture of both ideas into a final piece of legislation to pass before the session ends April 10.

“I’m not sure exactly what [the bills] will look like right now, but I think … we’ll know better in the next couple of days exactly where we’re going to land,” he said. “The details are important. We’re just going to try and make sure we get the details right.”

Waldstreicher agreed that the bills have similarities, such not allowing a wear-and-carry permit to be granted to anyone younger than 21 years old.

Both bills specify that a person younger than 21 may carry a firearm in limited cases, including if they are serving in the military, working for law enforcement, hunting with an adult, or participating in an organized competition.

“I think each chamber is accommodating the policy needs of the other chamber and that’s how this place should work,” Waldstreicher said. “It’s a bicameral legislature. The House and Senate are working together to end gun violence in Maryland, which is a historic and exciting proposition.”

Both bills were drafted in response to last year’s U.S. Supreme Court decision that struck down a New York law that restricted carrying concealed guns in public.

The Supreme Court ruled that a person no longer needed to demonstrate a special security need to obtain a license to carry a concealed gun in public, saying the requirement violated the Second Amendment. The decision in the case of New York State Rifle and Pistol Association v. Bruen — known colloquially as “Bruen” — affected gun laws in Maryland and several other states in addition to New York, where the law was challenged.

Currently in Maryland, a person cannot carry a firearm at several public places including legislative buildings, state parks, school property or within 1,000 feet of a demonstration in a public space.

‘Don’t see the need’

The House Judiciary Committee considered the Senate version at a hearing Wednesday. However, the Senate’s Judicial Proceedings Committee isn’t required to hold a hearing on the House bill because the measures are “substantially similar.”

Supporters and opponents of stronger gun regulations shared their views with the House committee.

“We are witnessing around this country the national nightmare of what happens in states that have loosened their gun laws. I’m sure that no one wants that here in Maryland,” Karen Herren, executive director of Marylanders to Prevent Gun Violence, who sat beside Waldstreicher in support of the Senate bill.

More than a dozen opponents told the committee it’s their constitutional right to possess a firearm and they wore white buttons with a red line through “SB 1.”

“We want the ability to protect ourselves when we are victims of violent crimes,” said Karla Mooney, a firearms instructor and chapter leader with Armed Women of America in Southern Maryland. “If you go [out] in public and you are trying to protect yourself, you no longer can.”

Mark Pennak, president of Maryland Shall Issue, said that prohibitions in the Senate bill mean gun owners would be able to possess their firearms only at home.

“If you carry inadvertently at one of those places when no notice is not required, then you are violating the provisions of the [gun] permit,” he said.

Testifying on another gun bill Thursday in Annapolis, Isra Qadri, 18, supported integrating ideas from both measures.

“I think that a basic empathetic person would want the pursuit of life, liberty and happiness for everyone in America as opposed to just themselves. I don’t see the need for everyone to have guns,” said Qadri, a freshman at the University of Maryland, College Park and member of the March for Our Lives Maryland chapter, in a brief interview. “Then maybe we’ll have some progress and less death.”

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