Wednesday, February 27, 2013

Maryland's Gun Control Madness - SB 281

There is such a thing as a common sense gun law - and we're in need of it in America.  Regulations that respect the American Constitution's Second Amendment - specifically the part that reads "shall not infringe" - with a modicum of common decency and protection of other Americans (the part of the Second Amendment that reads "well-regulated").     Making it difficult for convicted felons to obtain or possess guns is such a law.  Prohibiting convicted spousal abusers from legally buying or possessing guns is another.  Good ideas can prevail on this divisive and very American topic.  The Supreme Court has repeatedly affirmed both a loose interpretation of the Second Amendment, and the ability of state and federal agencies to somewhat restrict those rights.  We are set up for common sense.  We need to doggedly pursue it. 

There's a second category of gun laws, also.  Those are regulations that sincerely and solely aim to protect the public safety, and for one reason or another, end up not working, or have dreadful unintended consequences.    The reasons they don't work are varied, but most Americans are disappointed that they are not successful.  Many of President Obama's currently proposed changes to gun laws (and the interface between mental health and gun ownership) appear to be in this category.  I'm frankly surprised at how well-aimed they actually are, though they are unlikely to thwart the types of mass murder tragedies they intend to remove from our American reality.

Unfortunately, Maryland Governor Martin O'Malley has proposed a gun law, currently known as Senate Bill 281 (SB281), that falls into a third category - laws that bear no honest intent.   Despite its name, "The Firearm Safety Act of 2013," any honest reading of the original bill, or its amended Senate version, will have the reader forming an opinion that the Act does not seek to increase gun safety....but merely, to increase gun control and documentation of gun ownership.

This is a law, frankly, that seeks to exploit the recent mass murders into a platform that far-left politicians have sought to parlay into legislation for two decades.  That platform? Ending legal gun ownership in its current form, and establishing a gun ownership registry.    We can debate whether those things are Constitutional, or whether their enforcement is a worthwhile undertaking for law enforcement agencies; but what any logical American knows is that this type of law will not stop the bad guys (and the sick guys) from using guns to do really, really bad things.    Why not? Because SB 281 is not intended, in any way, to prevent criminals from obtaining or possessing guns.  If you're wondering how I can say that, here are some of SB281's key provisions:

1.  Marylanders who own any weapon that gun control advocates do not believe is a "sporting arm" will be forced to report their ownership of said guns to the State by October 1 of this year.  Failure to do so is punishable by up to three years in state prison - per unreported gun.  Not only are these folks some of the nation's most ardent gun control advocates, but many of them are anti-hunters as well. They have no stake in preserving gun ownership rights or hunting traditions.  They don't.  It's that simple.

2.  Marylanders who want to legally rent a handgun at a range, in order to become competent to handle a firearm and pass the proposed state handgun proficiency exam (roughly $500, required to purchase any handgun)................must FIRST pass the proposed state handgun proficiency exam (roughly $500). Prior to even renting a handgun.  Sound impossible?  It's meant to be.  Unless your parents taught you how to shoot, the state seeks to make it almost impossible for Maryland citizens to learn how to shoot a handgun, and thus, be licensed to purchase a handgun (plus all the ballistic fingerprinting, dry fire test, waiting period, special taxes, etc. that already exist).  I don't need to tell most of you that instead, you can purchase a handgun in ten minutes in Baltimore City for $200, no questions asked.   And every day, that happens.  SB 281 doesn't intend to curb that market.

3.   Marylanders who register a "grandfathered" assault weapon with the Maryland State Police may never ever leave the state with that weapon and return to Maryland with it - the "grandfathering" expires if the gun ever leaves the state, and the owner - registered owner of the gun - becomes the owner of an illegal, banned weapon.   No further explanation needed.

4.  Creates mandatory minimum sentences for gun crimes (HALLELUJAH!!!), but allows prosecutors and judges to waive them to afford for plea bargains.  What?!  These are the same kind of plea bargains that parole convicted Maryland murderers after 8-10 years in prison.   Again, if SB281 was in any way focused on gun violence, these would be true mandatory minimums.  Not poker chips for prosecutor plea bargains.

In Baltimore, the commonly thrown-around figure is that an arrested person faces only a 27% chance of being charged with a crime.  A person charged with a crime in Baltimore has less than a 10% chance of being convicted of any crime, less than 4% chance of being convicted of the crime that they were actually charged with in the first place, and less than 1% of serving their original minimum sentence.  Additionally, 1% of those murders were committed with assault rifles.  Not 10%.  Not 75%.  1%.  According to the group Maryland Shall Issue, 45% of people arrested for murder in Baltimore were previously arrested for gun crimes.  That's not an insignificant figure. Tell me again how "waive-able man-mins will work." 

5.  Bans duck hunters under age 21 from purchasing non-toxic waterfowl ammunition, while creating a database of all citizens who purchase non-toxic waterfowl ammunition in the state of Maryland. is this possible?  Well, the brilliant mind of AG Doug Gansler (who promised the Governor that this legislation is constitutionally valid) wanted to ban "cop killer" ammunition, which features copper in addition to lead.  When formatted for SB281, that became "ammunition other than lead."  Which includes waterfowl loads of steel, bismuth, and tungsten.

Each of you can read the internet reports of the last several American mass murderers.  SB281 would have thwarted, delayed, or prevented none of them.  You can also read the Baltimore newspaper, which will tell you about the 250-350 murders per year, primarily committed with illegally purchased firearms.  SB281 does not intend to address "those people."  In fact, I'd consider the legislation borderline racist because it ignores the constant threat of gun violence that inner city residents face every day.  SB281 says, "You don't matter, poor city people, because hey, we're getting all the assault rifles from the gun collectors!"

With gun laws of the "second type" I described above, it's easy enough for a cool-headed person to see that good things were intended, and the unintended consequences could eclipse any benefit received as a result of a particular new gun law.   Maryland's SB281 is different because the intent is different.

SB281 is an unfair burden on lower class gun owners.  SB281 is an unfair burden on all legal gun owners, who statistically are far less likely to commit a gun crime than illegal gun owners, who, again, are not in any real way targeted by SB281.

What should really be done? (My opinion only)

1.  Mandatory minimum sentences for gun crimes - no ifs, ands, or buts
2. Sweeping changes to the reporting of mental health cases to state police, to be accessible during cursory gun background checks.
3.  Expanded gun background checks.
4.  New requirements for firearm storage, both in the home and in a vehicle on a public road (or parked overnight).
5.  Require metal detectors in all public schools
6.  Allow, but don't require, armed guards or special police in all public schools.
7.  Require emergency planning and ability to electronically "lock down" public school buildings in an active emergency.
8.  Consider (though I'm loathe to suggest it) limits on high capacity magazines - the one thing that most mass murderers have in common.

What can you do?

This is the week.  Annapolis.  Contact your elected representative here and let them know that there is such a thing as common sense gun violence prevention - and this is not it.  Additional information is available at Maryland Shall Issue.  This is not a campaign against "all gun laws."  Additionally, this is not a campaign against Governor O'Malley, a man with whom I agree on many other topics.  He needs to know that most Marylanders, not just the NRA, don't think he's on the right track here.  Feel free to drop him a line as well.

Let's see what happens...shall we?

(Note: comments marked as "deleted by admin" below are unrelated spam, NOT opposing viewpoints, which are welcome as long as they are rational and polite).


Tuckahoe Videos said...

Good post Kirk. I see your point about clip size, but let's remember - the worst mass murder in the U.S. was done with pistols. Any person familiar with guns can empty a clip (be it 7 or 10 rounds, or more) and exchange it for a full clip in a matter of seconds with minimal practice.

Doc Outlaw said...

I hate to say it, but I think fighting this thing is a lost cause in the legislature. The politics of this state are such that anything the Democratic party wants to do will happen; when you've got a 2-1 majority that isn't much of a surprise. I fully expect it will end up in the courts and probably get overturned there, but the truth is, this bill was never intended to increse gun safety, or get guns out of the hands of criminals. The sole purpose of this bill was to get some national attention for O'Malley, who has the Presidential bug. After Cuomo passed his lunatic measures in NY, O'Malley simply had to outdo him. In the meantime, we all suffer.

Andrea said...

Question on the assault weapon vs. not an assault weapon. Is the MD AWB different vs. the one proposed on the federal level? Looks like aside from the silencer both accept a detachable magazine and have a barrel shroud so they both would be banned under federal law unless excluded by name? With expanded background checks do you mean private sales? Just trying to follow long. Thanks.

Kirk Mantay said...

Andrea, that's a great question. In short, the MD Governor sought a more strict definition of assault weapons, known as the "1 feature test." If a gun had 1 tactical feature (thumbhole grip, threaded barrel, collapsible), then it is an assault weapon. I believe the legislators, during debate, changed it to "2 feature test."

The "tests" are necessary because simply (fully) listing the make and models of certain guns that are AR's / AW's is impossible (though Feinstein sought to do just that at the federal level), plus, some guns NOT on the list could be converted to "nearly AW" with legal conversion kits.

By expanded background checks I mean that any minor conviction you have is looked into (briefly), any flag on your state police file for spousal abuse, mental deficiency, etc is considered, etc. Most legal gun owners (for say, a shotgun) can get through the background check and paperwork in less than 2 hours. I'd argue that that's a bit quick, with people like the CO, Va Tech, and CT shooters running around just barely under the radar.

Kirk @ River Mud said...

Jim - handguns remain huge in this debate. The US Army paid for the design of most of those on the market, and the industry flooded us with them. The Model 1911 has been on American streets for 100 years! There's no getting them back, particularly from the bad guys. And our Constitution says we can have them. Those two things make us different from all the nations with successful gun control.

High capacity mags, IMHO, are things of fancy when it comes to amateur shooting. "Nice 100 round barrel mag. How many hours will it take you to clear a jam out of that thing?"