With a petition drive started to repeal the law and a legal challenge expected from the National Rifle Association, supporters of Maryland’s new gun law offered a pre-emptive defense of the measure at a community forum in Silver Spring on Monday.
“The chances that this ultimately gets overturned are very, very minimal,” said Josh Horwitz, executive director of the Washington-based Coalition to Stop Gun Violence. He spoke before a mostly supportive crowd of about 100 people at the forum, sponsored by the nonprofit Safe Silver Spring.
Citing the recent U.S. Supreme Court decision in the District of Columbia v. Heller case, which discussed the parameters of the Second Amendment right to own guns, Horwitz argued for the new law’s constitutionality.
“What we have here is a law that doesn’t ban guns in the home, and puts regulations on the commercial sales of firearms, which is explicitly allowed under the Heller language,” Horwitz said.
The National Rifle Association did not respond to requests for comment, but Patrick Shomo, president of the gun-rights advocacy group Maryland Shall Issue, said he expected that various aspects of the law would be challenged by a number of groups.
The new law, supported by Gov. Martin O’Malley and adopted by the General Assembly early this year, requires background checks, fingerprinting and a licensing fee for everyone purchasing regulated firearms — a category that includes handguns but not shotguns or hunting rifles.
The law also bans about 40 semi-automatic rifles deemed to be “assault weapons” and magazines that hold more than 10 rounds of ammunition. It also restricts gun ownership by certain people with a history of mental illness.
Weapons such as AR-15 rifles, which are targeted by the law, are among the best selling in the country and are rarely used in violent crimes, meaning they are neither uncommon nor unusually dangerous and should be protected under the Heller decision, Shomo said. He declined to discuss specific legal challenges that may be made by his organization.
The AR-15 and similar rifles — known as modern sporting rifles — were the second-highest selling type of firearm in the country in 2011, behind the semi-automatic pistol, according to data from the National Shooting Sports Foundation, a gun-rights advocacy group based in Newtown, Conn., which surveyed gun retailers. Traditional rifles were the third-best-selling group, according to the foundation.
Horwitz said opponents may try to challenge the assault-weapons ban and the magazine capacity.
“Everybody would agree there’s an upper-limit on what type of weaponry you can have,” he said. “I don’t think, as a practical matter, the court is going to get in ... and start drawing lines around whether it’s 20 rounds or 30 rounds or 10 rounds.”
MDPetitions.com, the group that backed referendums in 2012 to overturn same-sex marriage, the Maryland Dream Act and the state’s new congressional districts — all of which were upheld by voters — announced last month that it would not be petitioning the gun law to the ballot in 2014. Del. Neil C. Parrott (R-Dist. 2B) of Hagerstown said it would be more appropriate to fight the law in court.
“They knew they would lose,” Vincent DeMarco, health-care advocate and president of Marylanders to Prevent Gun Violence, said at Tuesday’s forum. “Don’t let anybody tell you anything else.
A newer organization, the Damascus-based Free State Petitions, has launched its own petition drive to take the bill to referendum,
Montgomery County resident Sue Payne, who is leading the group, told The Gazette last week that she believed Marylanders would care more about the gun law — and therefore be more likely to repeal it — than they did about the 2012 ballot issues.
Free State Petitions must collect 55,736 valid signatures to place the measure before voters. The first batch of 18,579 signatures is due May 31, with the balance due June 31.