A Mount Airy gun store owner thinks it will push businesses across state borders.
A retired Frederick County teacher believes it is needed to curb gun violence.
The county's sheriff sees it as an affront to the constitution he is sworn to defend.
The sweeping package of gun reforms that passed in the Maryland General Assembly this year is a safety measure to some and to others a threat to civil liberties. The issue drew throngs to Annapolis on a scale many lawmakers said they'd never before seen and prompted a committee hearing that stretched well into early morning hours.
Though gun owners and the National Rifle Association waged war on the Firearm Safety Act of 2013, the bill sponsored by Gov. Martin O'Malley ground through the legislature. Even after the bill's passage, resistance has continued with a failed referendum effort and promises from the NRA to stage a legal challenge.
Strong rhetoric about Second Amendment rights and protecting Marylanders from violent acts has followed the law's every step as it moves toward its Oct. 1 effective date.
"Lives will be saved," Vincent DeMarco, president of Marylanders to Prevent Gun Violence, said.
"This was a terrible law, and Marylanders are going to suffer for it," Frederick County Sheriff Chuck Jenkins said. "I truly don't think you're going to prevent one crime."
The law enacts a ban on assault rifles, limits magazine capacity to 10 rounds and creates criminal penalties for gun owners who fail to report stolen firearms to police. It also establishes a licensing requirement for handgun purchases. Prospective purchasers must undergo a fingerprint background check, take a 4-hour gun safety course and submit a $50 application fee to land one of the 10-year licenses.
'Aware of the risks'
Judy Lybrand-Kuhn's cousin, a police officer, left his handgun unsecured while he went to the corner store to buy milk, she said. In those few minutes, his 10-year-old son thought he heard an intruder, picked up the handgun and accidentally shot and killed his 3-year-old sister.
Lybrand-Kuhn has lost two relatives to gun accidents, she said. The Emmitsburg resident was raised in Texas, "knows guns," and even shot skeet and trap herself when she was younger. But since the deaths of her family members, she recognizes the need for safety measures, she said, and that has led her to walk in marches and attend vigils as she advocates for change.
She went to Annapolis earlier this year to testify for the Firearm Safety Act, which she said she supports because it will prevent gun sales to people with protective orders issued against them.
"If we just educate the public and keep fighting for common-sense laws, it's really going to help," said Lybrand-Kuhn, who worked in Frederick County's school system for 32 years.
Imagine you are a felon who wants to buy a gun. You are barred by law from possessing a handgun, so you'd have to come up with some kind of plan.
One way of getting around the rules is to ask a friend with a clean record to buy the gun for you in what is commonly known as a "straw purchase," said Daniel Webster, a Johns Hopkins University professor who directs the Center for Gun Policy and Research. Or you could buy the gun yourself by falsifying your identity.
The handgun licensing system introduced by the new law will help close both those loopholes, Webster said. Fingerprint background checks will weed out the people who are giving a false name. And buyers will be less likely to make straw purchases if they have to put their fingerprints to the transaction and take a 4-hour safety course.
Even the act of submitting prints to a police agency would give a potential straw purchaser pause, he said.
"My assumption is that for people who are doing this because they want to buy guns for criminals, that would be an intimidating thing to do."
The data backs him up, he argues.
Webster's research found intrastate gun trafficking was 68 percent lower in U.S. cities where purchasing a firearm requires a permit. The study analyzed federal data about guns recovered by police in 54 American cities from 2000 through 2002.
Seven other states – California, Connecticut, Hawaii, Massachusetts, Minnesota, New Jersey and New York – require fingerprinting as part of firearms purchases, according to O'Malley's office.
The handgun permit measure was popular among Marylanders, its supporters say. A Goucher College poll conducted in March found that 83 percent of Maryland residents surveyed supported requiring a license for handgun buyers.
But many gun advocates said the fingerprinting will simply add another layer of bureaucracy and do little to prevent crime.
"What good would Adam Lanza's fingerprints have done anybody?" asked Tim Brown, owner of the Gun Shack in Mount Airy.
The Saturday after the Newtown shooting, Brown said, his gun store was the busiest he had ever seen.
For the Gun Shack and many other stores, the rush hasn't let up since, as people seek to stockpile firearms and ammunition before the new gun control laws take effect.
In the first five months of 2013, Maryland State Police received 57,524 purchase applications for regulated firearms, such as handguns and assault rifles. Only 27,033 applications were submitted to the agency during the same period in 2012.
The state police's licensing division is in charge of handling criminal background checks on each of the potential purchasers, and typically stores don't release firearms to the buyers until the records check comes back clean. This year's flood of applications has created a backlog in the system, and the wait time for background checks has reached eight to 10 weeks, a state police spokesman said.
With the slowdowns that exist already, critics of the new law say the state police licensing division is in no position to take on the added task of background checks for handgun licenses.
This year's state budget directed more than $4.6 million to state police for implementing the act and establishing a gun center. The money will allow the agency to hire new personnel and upgrade technology to prepare for the influx of additional background checks, said Sgt. Marc Black, a state police spokesman.
In addition, the law states that the state police must approve or deny handgun license applications within 30 days.
But Delegate Michael Hough said he doesn't think the agency can stick to this timeline.
"I have no faith in them," said Hough (R-District 3B), who bought a handgun earlier this year and waited 65 days for officials to process the paperwork.
'Full to the gills'
Frustrated firearms instructors with the Cresap Rifle Club started leaving Maryland about 18 months ago, according to club president Rich Tepper.
Fed up with state gun laws, many headed to Virginia, and the club's staff of handgun and rifle instructors has dwindled from about 15 to five, Tepper said.
"You don't have to be a gun nut to be really upset about this."
The southward migration of instructors comes at a particularly bad time for gun buyers.
To land one of the new handgun licenses, prospective purchasers must finish a 4-hour course. The bill stipulates that people qualified to teach the course must be state police-licensed instructors or certified by a "nationally recognized firearms organization," such as the National Rifle Association. There are now 178 qualified handgun instructors licensed through Maryland State Police.
Tepper said his club, a nonprofit, operates an outdoor range in Frederick and offers training in hunting and basic firearm handling. However, even before the new law goes into effect, the Cresap courses are "full to the gills," Tepper said.
Ben Kelkye, a master training counselor for the NRA, said he is working frantically to expand the number of state police-licensed trainers.
"We are going to produce as many instructors as we possibly can, so when this thing hits, we'll be somewhat ready," said Kelkye, who is also president of the Frederick County Sportsman's Council.
Assault weapons ban
The "street sweeper" shotgun. The AK-47. The Avtomat Kalashnikov. The Bushmaster semiautomatic.
Starting in October, these and 41 other rifle types will no longer be sold legally in Maryland. Also outlawed are guns that have two or more features like a folding stock, grenade launcher or flash suppressor.
Gun rights advocates contend that these rifles are no more lethal than shotguns, handguns or other firearms that will continue to appear on gun store shelves.
They point to statistics showing assault rifles are rarely used in violent crimes.
The Frederick County Sheriff's Office made 23 firearm-related arrests from June 2012 through May 2013. Nineteen of the incidents involved handguns, and only one had to do with an assault rifle.
National statistics from 2010 indicate rifles were only used in three of 424 homicides in Maryland. By comparison, handguns accounted for 272 of these cases, according to the FBI figures.
Assault rifles play a part in relatively few violent acts, but they are frequently the weapons used in mass shootings, DeMarco pointed out. The gunman at Sandy Hook Elementary School reportedly carried a Bushmaster semiautomatic rifle, and an AR-15 rifle was carried by the man charged with killing 12 moviegoers in Aurora, Colo.
"The point is, we want to prevent these tragedies from happening," DeMarco said.
The outlawed firearms have military-style features that make it easier to fire shots in rapid succession, gun control advocates argue.
Jenkins said he doesn't think the ban will make Frederick County any safer. In fact, he doesn't think his agency has a role in enforcing the new law. People who currently own assault rifles are exempt from the ban, so deputies would have no easy way of distinguishing between legal and illegal possession of these firearms, he said.
Brown believes the ban will put a damper on gun sales, and stores that specialize in paramilitary merchandise could very well move across state lines.
"This isn't going to put us out of business," he said, "but it is going to take a bite."
Comparison of Maryland law before and after the Firearm Safety Act
- List of assault pistols banned.
- Maryland bans assault weapons, which are defined as assault pistols and 45 listed assault rifles. The ban also extends to copycat weapons, which are semiautomatic rifles that can accept a detachable magazine and have two more listed features, such as a folding stock, grenade launcher or flash suppressor. Semiautomatic rifles with a fixed magazine that can accept more than 10 rounds or are shorter than 29 inches also are banned. The new ban does not apply to people who have inherited assault rifles or people who owned assault rifles before Oct. 1.
- Ammunition magazines are limited to 20 rounds.
- Ammunition magazines are limited to 10 rounds.
- Purchasers of regulated firearms such as handguns must complete a safety training course and submit an application to the Maryland State Police, which performs background checks on these individuals. Firearm buyers can satisfy the training requirement by taking a free, 30-minute course offered online by the Maryland Police Training Commission.
- Outside of certain exemptions, prospective handgun buyers must secure a handgun qualification license in addition to fulfilling all the standard requirements for regulated firearm purchases. To get a handgun license, prospective buyers must within the past three years have completed a 4-hour course in which they show they can safely handle a firearm. Included with the application for a handgun license, prospective buyers must include a $50 fee. They must also undergo a fingerprint background check.
- Individuals prohibited from owning firearms can legally possess ammunition.
- It is a misdemeanor crime for prohibited individuals, such as felons, to possess ammunition for weapons they can't legally own.
- Individuals cannot own a regulated firearm if they have spent more than 30 consecutive days in a mental treatment facility. There is an exception for people who get a physician's certificate showing the person can safely own a firearm.
- Individuals are barred from owning a regulated firearm if they have been involuntarily committed to a mental treatment facility or voluntarily admitted for more than 30 consecutive days.