This story was corrected on Dec. 17.
As the debate over gun control gets louder across the country, Maryland lawmakers are planning a renewed push for legislation to ban assault weapons and track illegal sales.
One bill being introduced in the upcoming 2013 legislative session by Montgomery County state Sens. Jamie B. Raskin (D-Dist. 20) of Takoma Park and Brian E. Frosh (D-Dist. 16) of Chevy Chase would ban assault weapons like the Bushmaster rifle used in a shooting spree Friday at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn., that left 20 children and six adults dead.
Banning assault weapons would “reduce the slaughter,” Frosh said. “I mean, 26 people. If these weapons weren’t as extensively in the hands of private people, [a shooter] might be able to kill a couple people, but not 26. Would it stop the gun violence? No. But would it save some lives? Absolutely.”
A similar ban was introduced in the General Assembly in 2010, but failed to make it out of committee.
A federal assault weapons ban expired in 2004. Some U.S. lawmakers are making renewed calls to enact a new ban.
The weapon reportedly used in the Newtown massacre was a Bushmaster .223-caliber semiautomatic rifle — a model similar to the one used by John Allen Muhammad and Lee Boyd Malvo, the duo behind the 2002 Beltway Sniper shootings that left 10 dead in the region.
That rifle can be purchased legally in Maryland, but is considered an “assault weapon” under state law and is regulated like a handgun.
Regulated firearms can be purchased only after a seven-day waiting period, completion of a training course and a background check by the Maryland State Police.
Those requirements also apply to regulated weapons bought at gun shows, according to state police. Many states have yet to close that loophole.
The other bill to be introduced would give state police the same authority to audit gun stores currently used by the U.S. Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives.
“ATF is overwhelmed and outmaneuvered by gun dealers,” said Raskin, noting that a small minority of dealers is involved in illegal sales. “There are some very bad apples among gun dealers.”
Frosh noted that the ATF audits gun dealers only every four to six years.
Through the proposed legislation, Maryland State Police would have access to gun dealers’ records and could go after those who claim that they have lost guns or the paperwork for those firearms.
“We know that there are certain gun stores where guns leave their inventory and end up being used in crimes in disproportionate numbers,” Frosh said.
In the 2012 session, Frosh introduced a similar bill that would have made record-keeping and reporting more stringent for gun dealers. That bill also would have extended the ability of state police to inspect the inventory and records of gun dealers. The Senate passed the bill, but it died in a House of Delegates committee.
“This doesn’t violate anyone’s Second Amendment rights,” Frosh said. “It just asks the gun dealers to follow the law.”
Another law Frosh and other senators are working on would amend Maryland’s right-to-carry law, which currently requires that those with permits have a “good and substantial” reason for doing so. A U.S. District Court struck down the law this year, saying that it was too restrictive. The state is currently appealing the court’s decision, Frosh said.
“But if it’s upheld, anybody could go and get a permit from the state to carry a gun wherever they want,” Frosh said, noting that there is nothing on the books to replace the current law, which applies to concealed weapons. Private Maryland residents cannot openly carry firearms in public.
A bill being drafted would prohibit those convicted of violent offenses and those with documented mental health issues from carrying a gun. The bill also would restrict where permit-holders could carry handguns, including in churches and schools, and would require training.
Raskin said he and Frosh had planned to reintroduce the bills prior to the shooting in Connecticut, but that the incident gave the legislation renewed urgency.
“I’m convinced that law-abiding gun owners are just as sickened by this,” Raskin said. “I simply could not live with myself if I didn’t do everything in my power to pass these laws and something like this happened in Maryland.”
An earlier version of this story misstated the number of Beltway Sniper victims.