Frederick town hall draws huge crowd of gun bill opponents -- Gazette.Net


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Jim Gangawere stood in the back of the hot, crowded American Legion hall in Frederick, listening as one person after another approached the microphone to ask a question of the state legislators on the stage in front of him.

The event on April 25 was organized by four members of Frederick County’s delegation to the General Assembly to inform constituents about the requirements of a sweeping gun-control measure passed by the legislature in the 90-day session that ended on April 8.

Gangawere of Frederick said he wasn’t a big gun enthusiast but had come to the town hall meeting because he was concerned about the continued erosion of people’s freedoms, particularly the Second Amendment to the Constitution.

“[I’m] Just ticked at what they want to do to our rights,” he said.

Del. Kathy Afzali (R-Dist. 4A) of Middletown told the standing-room-only crowd of about 300 people who turned out for the meeting held at the Francis Scott Key Post 11 that opponents of the bill have decided against attempting to take the measure to a referendum.

Instead, they want to focus on a possible court battle challenging the law’s legitimacy because they don’t think it’s right to have citizens vote on a constitutionally-guaranteed freedom such as the right to bear arms, she said.

The bill, which was proposed by Gov. Martin O’Malley (D), would require anyone purchasing regulated firearms — which do not include hunting rifles and shotguns — to submit to a background check, fingerprinting and pay for a license.

About 40 types of guns have also been deemed “assault weapons” and banned, along with magazines holding more than 10 rounds. The bill also prevents those with a history of mental illness from obtaining firearms.

Once O’Malley signs the bill, it will go into effect on Oct. 1. No date has been set for when O’Malley will sign the bill, his Press Secretary Takirra Winfield said Monday.

Under the measure:

• People who move to Maryland after Oct. 1 have 90 days to pay a $15 registration fee to register their regulated firearms with the Maryland State Police.

• Anyone who orders a banned firearm before Oct. 1 but doesn’t receive it until after that date may still take possession.

• Anyone who wants to buy a handgun after Oct. 1 must apply to the Maryland State Police for a license, which requires four hours of classroom and range training.

There are several exemptions to the training requirement, such as for honorably discharged members of the armed forces or National Guard or people who already own a regulated firearm.

The meeting was organized by Afzali, Del. Kelly Schulz (R-Dist. 4A) of New Market, Del. Patrick Hogan (R-Dist. 3A) of Frederick and Del. Michael Hough (R-Dist. 3B) of Brunswick to help educate voters on the bill and rally support against it.

Supporters of the measure, including Sen. Ronald N. Young (D-Dist. 3) of Frederick and Sen. Brian E. Frosh (D-Dist.16) of Chevy Chase, spoke at what was billed as an anti-gun violence rally Saturday at the Urbana Regional Library.

“Let’s take this to the Supreme Court,” Afzali told the crowd on April 25. “Let’s let the Constitution be the guide for everything we do.”

But some lawmakers believe gun rights supporters have a different motive for seeking redress in the courts rather than in the ballot box.

“I think they knew they were going to spend a lot of money and lose,” by taking the issue to referendum, Frosh said.

A March poll by Goucher College showed 59 percent of Marylanders supported limiting the capacity of gun magazines; 82 percent backed fingerprinting for gun owners; 83 percent were for licensing; and 61 percent believed assault weapons should be banned.

Even Afzali cited a recent Washington Post poll that 85 percent of Marylanders supported the governor’s bill.

“I think everything we’ve done [in the law] is with compelling reason,” said Sen. Jamie B. Raskin (D-Dist. 20) of Takoma Park. “I think they’re better off addressing their arguments to [Supreme Court] Justice [Antonin] Scalia and Chief Justice [John] Roberts than to the people of Maryland.”

After the massacre of 20 students and six staff members at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn., there was a collective effort in Annapolis to do something about gun violence, Hogan said.

Republicans, who didn’t want to give the impression they were turning a blind eye to gun violence, supported measures to strengthen background checks and increase school security, Hogan said.

But they also wanted to protect the rights of gun owners, and O’Malley’s bill went too far, he said.

Hogan said the bill could have been worse, with provisions such as taxes on ammunition and a retroactive confiscation of assault weapons ultimately removed from the measure.

“We were able to make a bad bill better,” he said.

The town hall meeting on April 25 was an effort not only to educate people about what’s in the new law, but to use the momentum against it to motivate voters, several of the lawmakers said.

Historically, gun owners have always turned out at the polls in high numbers when gun-control measures go into effect, said Hough, who helped lead the Republican attack on the bill from his seat on the House Judiciary Committee.

He cited the 1994 Republican takeover of the U.S. House of Representatives as a prime example.

Former Democratic President Bill Clinton has blamed the results of that election largely on the passage of federal gun-control legislation that banned assault weapons in the previous Congress.

While 85 percent of people polled may say they support the governor’s bill, not all of them strongly support it, Hough said.

It’s up to Republicans to frame the issue in a way that wins over some of those people and funnels voter intensity on the gun issue, Hough said.

“The more we explain the bill, the more people will see problems in it,” he said.

Staff Writer Holly Nunn contributed to this story.

rmarshall@gazette.net