When Gov. Martin O’Malley (D) introduces his sweeping gun-control measures Friday, he’ll try to put Maryland law more in line with states that have used strict licensing requirements to help curb gun violence, observers say.
In addition to a statewide ban on military-style assault weapons and high-capacity magazine clips, O’Malley said he would introduce new, “common-sense” licensing requirements for handguns.
Those requirements reportedly could include fingerprinting prospective gun buyers and completing a hands-on safety course.
“States that have licensing have significantly reduced gun violence,” said Vincent DeMarco, a health care advocate and national coordinator of Faiths United to Prevent Gun Violence.
The problem isn’t just the number of guns but the ease with which someone who wants to shoot someone can obtain a gun, DeMarco said. If every handgun sale required a visit to the state police, people would be far less willing to make straw purchases on behalf of criminals, he said.
Such strict licensing requirements have helped reduce gun violence in states such as New Jersey, DeMarco said.
New Jersey ranked 49th in the rate of gun deaths in 2009, according to data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Maryland ranked 30th that year, about on par with the national rate of 10.1 deaths per 100,000 people, according to CDC data.
The proposals, which the governor has been considering since this past month's mass shooting at a Connecticut elementary school, follow close on the heels of new gun-control measures passed by New York lawmakers this week.
“There is a sickness in our country, and that sickness is gun violence,” O’Malley said Monday at a summit about gun violence at Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore, where he introduced New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg.
Maryland and New York are among a handful of states pursuing restrictions for gun ownership in the wake of the Newtown, Conn., massacre, which left 20 children dead. Other states include Connecticut, Delaware and Colorado.
The New York package, signed into law by Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo (D) on Tuesday, expands a state assault-weapons ban, limits the amount of ammunition that can be held in magazines and creates a state assault weapons registry.
Connecticut Gov. Daniel P. Malloy (D) created a commission earlier this month to examine that state’s gun laws and praised gun-control measures proposed by President Barack Obama on Wednesday.
Delaware Gov. Jack Markell (D) proposed legislation earlier this month that would ban high-capacity magazines, require background checks on gun sales and ban the sale and delivery of assault weapons in the state.
Colorado Gov. George Hickenlooper (D) suggested this past week that background checks should be required for all gun purchases
O’Malley’s proposals have the potential to become the “gold standard” for state gun laws, said Ed Hatcher, director of the newly formed Smart Gun Laws Maryland. But the number of states where there’s the political will to enact such measures, particularly those with Republican-controlled legislatures, remains rather small, he said.
“(Among) people who are impassioned on this issue, the consensus is that we (also) need strong federal legislation,” Hatcher said.
O’Malley said his legislative package also will include “real, substantive reforms to improve mental health services,” such as improved data-sharing and treatment. Additionally, it will call for a center on early intervention for those with serious mental illnesses, he said.
School safety will be addressed by a special fund within the capital budget for school construction that would be devoted to physical improvements at school facilities, O’Malley said, adding that he also is calling for a state center for school safety, so education officials could consult with law-enforcement agencies on best practices to keep students safe.
O’Malley said no one was trying to ban all guns. “At the same time, we know that it makes absolutely no sense, when you look at the level of carnage on our streets from guns, to blame every factor but guns,” he said.
He also said there mgiht not be any way to “completely prevent” a tragedy such as the Newtown shooting.
“But then again, perhaps there is,” O'Malley said.
But gun-ownership advocates worry that restrictions concerning firearm sales don’t punish the ones responsible for gun crimes.
“It's not the lawful gun owners that are the problem. It’s the criminals,” said Del. Kevin Kelly (D-Dist. 1B) of Cumberland, who had not yet seen O’Malley's proposals.
Furthermore, the number of Marylanders killed by rifles, let alone the semi-automatic rifles that Kelly says often are wrongly called “assault weapons,” in the past several years is minuscule compared to the number of people killed by hands, fists and feet, he said, citing FBI crime statistics.