A student intern’s research project is changing the way at least one Maryland town looks at its local gun laws.
The Washington state-based Second Amendment Foundation sent letters this spring to Maryland towns including Gaithersburg, Poolesville, Garrett Park, Frederick, Cumberland, Ocean City, Baltimore and Annapolis, threatening them with a lawsuit unless they revised or eliminated the sections of their code the foundation believed violated state law.
Reaction to the letters has been mixed, said Dave Workman, the communications director for the foundation.
Some towns have told them to go ahead and try to bring a lawsuit, while others have thanked them for letting them know about the issues and promised to look into them.
The foundation realizes any changes won’t be an overnight process, Workman said.
Several communities are working on possible changes and one — Cheverly in Prince George’s County — has already changed an ordinance, he said.
“That’s really all that we’ve heard lately about it,” he said.
On Aug. 8, Cheverly voted to delete a section of its town code that prohibited the wearing and carrying of dangerous weapons in the town, including pistols, revolvers, sling shots, blackjacks, brass knuckles and other types of dangerous weapons, said Town Administrator David Warrington.
When the mayor and council reviewed the ordinance, it was determined that violators were typically charged under state laws and the section had actually never been used and so the decision was made to delete it, Warrington said.
The town is looking to replace the section with one that would ban firearms from county buildings except by law enforcement officers, he said.
Such a ban already exists in town parks.
Not every municipality has agreed to cooperate.
The foundation’s letter to Takoma Park listed three sections in the town’s code regulating firearms that the foundation believed exceeded its authority under Maryland law, including one that prohibits the sale, possession or transportation of firearms in places where people gather.
“The Maryland legislature does give Takoma Park the ability to regulate firearms in places of public assembly,” the letter said. “However, Takoma Park’s definition of public assembly grossly exceeds the authority granted to it by the Maryland legislature.”
In an April 25 response, the town’s attorney wrote that she had reviewed the various sections of the code and determined the city did not exceed its authority.
Other towns still are mulling over possible changes.
Poolesville’s letter, for example, cited a clause in the town’s code adopted in 1975 that gives the town the right to regulate firearms during civil emergencies and allows the president of the town’s commissioners to prohibit the sale or transfer of firearms.
Poolesville referred the issue to its town attorney and is waiting for a recommendation on new wording, said Jim Brown, president of the town’s Board of Commissioners.
He said there was no timetable for when a decision might be made.
“We’ll take action when we feel the time is appropriate,” Brown said.
The idea essentially started as a research paper for a law student interning with the foundation who was tasked with finding out if small municipalities with their states’ firearms laws, Workman said.
The study began with Washington and Virginia, then expanded to Maryland and Oregon.
Although the letters threatened a possible lawsuit if towns didn’t comply, Workman said he thinks of them more as a “heads up” to communities that they needed to get in compliance with state gun laws.
When legislators adopt statewide statutes on any subject, it takes awhile for local governments to catch up, Workman said.
He said many of the ordinances have been on the books for a long time and seem to have slipped through the cracks as nobody bothered to change or update them.
Workman is willing to take a good-faith approach if towns will take an honest look at their codes.
“I’m giving these guys the benefit of the doubt,” he said.