ANNAPOLIS — Even a casual observer who visited the House of Delegates’ offices Tuesday could easy deduce the issue of the day by taking notice of the sartorial sameness displayed in the long lines of activists waiting to testify – gun control.
The corridor outside the House Judiciary Committee’s chamber, was packed full of redshirted advocates, gun lobbyists and other Marylanders seeking to add their voice to the debate, whether it was for or against more gun legislation. While last month’s deadly school shooting in Parkland, Florida provided new momentum to a longstanding push for more gun control laws, those in attendance at Tuesday’s public hearing came not to take part in the ongoing national debate on guns, but rather to weigh in gun issues closer to home in Maryland.
The bills in question Tuesday were of two varieties, and would either close perceived loopholes in Maryland’s gun laws, or allow Marylanders to more easily carry their guns throughout the state.
Tuesday’s hearing was held as part of what co-chair Kathleen Dumais (D-15th District) dubbed “Gun Day,” during which the committee heard testimony on 36 different gun-related bills ranging from measures to strictly limit the transfer of guns without proper paperwork, to allowing school boards to issue concealed carry permits to teachers and staff in hopes of protecting students from a future mass shooter.
“Our group of mothers and others believe strongly that we shouldn’t have to be here to make this happen. If I sound impatient, it’s because I don’t think that Maryland women and families should have to wait another year for this lifesaving protection,” said Danielle Vieth, [resident of the Maryland chapter of Moms Demand Action in favor of one of the major bills of the day, HB 1646, which make it easier for the state to take away guns from convicted domestic abusers.
HB 1646, which is sponsored by Delegate Vanessa E. Atterbeary (D-13) would give greater enforcement power to sheriff departments and courts to order convicted domestic abusers to give up their firearms. Gun control advocates, sheriffs from around the state and prosecutors testified in support of the bill Tuesday, while gun rights advocates worried that the bill could infringe on Fifth Amendment protections against self incrimination if a person is compelled by the court to attest that they have given up their guns.
“The bill is good, we want the things that are described in this bill to happen,” said Shannon Alford, a state liaison for the National Rifle Association, who did not testify in favor or against the bill, but added she was worried about the potential Fifth Amendment violations it could cause.
Alford was one of the day’s more prolific speakers, rising in opposition to several gun control bills. While gun advocates were defeated in 2013, when Maryland passed a strict ban on assault-style weapons, pro-gun advocates still came from across the state to weigh in during the day.
Even as both the committee room and the overflow room were standing-room-only, Maryland’s gun control debate differs from the larger nationwide one because of the existing assault-style weapons ban, which then-Gov. Martin O’Malley (D) signed into law after it was passed in the wake of the 2012 Sandy Hook massacre. That issue being settled, debates over currently-proposed gun control legislation focused on closing perceived legal loopholes rather than banning classes of guns.
“Until our national government, Congress and the president make some reforms that affect all states, we can have the strongest laws on the book, if people still can get guns legally because there are states with other laws,” Dumais said.
Dick Jurgena, the former chair of the Montgomery County Republican Party, came to Annapolis Tuesday to testify on several gun bills, among them HB 758, which would allow a person to carry a handgun onto the property of a church or other religious organization with the permission of the church’s officials.
“I support that because I am an usher at a church in Darnestown,” Jurgena said. “We had a person come in during the mass on Good Friday two years back and stole from the collection box, and ever since then, I have been concerned about the safety of people.”
Delegate Rick Impallaria (R-7) introduced a similar bill to allow local school boards to issue permits to allow school employees to carry concealed weapons on school property.
“There's prevention and there's deterrence. I think it creates a greater deterrent and I think it can bring it [school shootings] to an end faster,” Impallaria said.
Neither bill has much likelihood of passing the Democratically-controlled General Assembly, as no Democrat has signed on as a co-sponsor of either.
Outside the House of Delegates’ office building near Lawyer’s Mall, Charlene Selby and her husband and son held signs reading: “Hands off our guns” and “Shall not be infringed.”
Selby, who traveled with her husband and son from Worcester County, said her family comes from a small town on the Eastern Shore where they own guns and like to hunt, and they feel that the restrictions Maryland has placed on gun owners in recent years have gone too far.
“We’re just out here to show our discontent with any infringement on our Second Amendment rights,” she said.