With a renewed push to enact gun control legislation taking this place last weekend in Washington, some state politicians are saying Maryland could serve as model of gun control reform for the nation.
Since the murder of 17 people in Parkland, Florida, students and gun control advocates have staged walkouts and protest marches in hopes of pressuring Congress to enact new gun control laws such as banning assault weapons which Maryland did through its legislation in 2013.
“It was ahead of its time to a certain extent, because it really covered a breadth of the issue around gun control,” said Del. Ana Sol Gutierrez (D-18), a co-sponsor of the 2013 state gun control bill.
The Firearm Safety Act of 2013, which was passed in the wake of the massacre at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut, was a sweeping gun control measure that banned assault rifles, limited magazine capacities to 10 rounds, required people to get fingerprinted before buying a gun and required people to go through training before they could purchase a handgun.
But while politicians who pushed for the passing of the bill said placing greater restrictions on guns would save lives, statistics shows that gun violence in the state has increased since the bill passed.
According to the Centers for Disease Control, there were 578 gun deaths in Maryland in 2013, the year the bill passed. Although in the next year the number dropped to 546, as of 2016, the most recent number from the CDC indicates there were 707 gun deaths in Maryland. In addition, more than a week ago, a shooter killed one person at Great Mills High School in St. Mary’s County, stealing his father’s handgun to do so.
Gutierrez said part of the trouble with gun violence in the state is that many of guns used in crimes in the state come from other states such as Virginia, which has less strict gun laws. Gutierrez said high gun violence rates in places such as Baltimore, is evidence that the federal government needs to pass stricter gun laws, because it’s almost impossible for state authorities to stop illegal firearms from other states from entering Maryland.
“I think we need to do bit more research in tracing the origin of these guns I still think we are weak at the state level because at the federal level there is a prohibition on tracing guns,” Gutierrez said.
While the federal government keeps a record of guns it recovers and traces their origin, Gutierrez said the federal government ought to keep a national database of guns, so firearms can be traced by law enforcement more easily.
According to the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, of the 5,323 guns that law enforcement in Maryland recovered in 2016, almost half came from other states. Law enforcement recovered 2,855 guns that trace their origins to dealers in Maryland, while states such as Virginia (780), Pennsylvania (362) and West Virginia (221) were the highest contributors to guns from other states.
“Gun control does not affect a criminal at all. It’s only affecting law-abiding citizens who are trying to do things the right way,” said Kat O’Connor, owner of TomKat Ammunition, a Gaithersburg federally-licensed gun and ammunition manufacturer and dealer.
O’Connor, a small gun manufacturer, makes AR-15 rifles, the type of rifle that has become the center of the national debate as it has become one of the choice weapons for mass shooters, most recently in Parkland, Florida. While Maryland has an assault weapons ban, versions of the AR-15 are legal in Maryland as long as they comply with the state’s ban on assault weapons.
In Maryland, a gun is considered an assault weapon if it has features like a folding stock, grenade or flare launcher or a flash suppressor. O’Connor said she makes about 20 AR-15s and AR-10s a year, saying customers usually buy the weapon for recreational shooting purposes.
While O’Connor said she disagrees with many gun control measures, she approves of the background system in the state which requires prospective buyers to pass a federal background check, get fingerprinted, and if they want to purchase a handgun, obtain a license.
“I think we should enforce the laws we have, we have very good laws as far background checks go,” she said.