ANNAPOLIS — As thousands of Maryland students walked out of their classrooms to demand gun control legislation, Maryland’s House of Delegates moved forward a bill that would ban bump stocks and other rapid-fire trigger activators.
Delegate David Moon (D-Montgomery County) urged legislators to vote down floor amendments to House Bill 888 on Wednesday, including one proposed by Delegate Kathy Afzali (R-District 4).
Moon’s bill would prevent a person from owning, making, selling or transporting a “rapid fire trigger activator” in Maryland. It sets the maximum penalty for violations at three years in prison, a $5,000 fine, or both, the same at the penalty for possession of an automatic weapon.
Moon explained that the intent of his bill was to keep people from skirting Maryland’s ban on automatic weapons, which is why the penalties were equivalent.
The impetus for the proposed legislation was the October 2017 shooting in Las Vegas in which a gunman equipped with a bump stock killed 58 people and wounded hundreds at a concert in 10 minutes.
A subsequent analysis from the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives determined that bump stocks were legal under federal law because they do not alter the firearm to fire automatically. President Donald Trump in February proposed a ban on such devices.
Afzali’s amendment to Moon’s measure, which was ultimately voted down, would have required state police to facilitate a turn-in of the banned modifications, made it legal to transport them for the purposes of turning them in and would have required the Governor’s Office of Crime Control and Prevention to advertise the changes in the law.
Her intent, she said, was to make sure that people who already own the rapid-fire trigger activators for sport or hunting are aware that they would have to turn them in while facilitating the process.
Delegate Susan W. Krebs (R-Carroll) stated her support for Afzali’s amendments, saying, “It seems like we haven’t thought out how we’re going to get rid of these things.”
Moon countered that should the law pass, normal prosecutorial discretion would protect people who turn in banned modifications. He continued that the government does not normally advertise changes to law, noting that the state didn’t advise when it recently banned powdered alcohol or when it banned assault rifles.
He also noted that, if the bill becomes law, gun owners would have until October to comply.
Afzali’s amendment failed with a party-line vote from the Frederick County delegation. Republican delegates Afzali, William Folden (District 3B), Barrie Ciliberti (District 4) and David E. Vogt III (District 4) supported the change, while Democratic delegates Carol Krimm (District 3A) and Karen Lewis Young (District 3A) voted it down.
Two other amendments to Moon’s bill failed to get the needed votes on the House floor. One from Delegate Seth A. Howard (R-Anne Arundel) would have made possession of the trigger systems legal.
His goal, he said, was to prevent people who already own the items from running afoul of the law, something he took personally as the owner of such a device.
“You’re getting ready to make me a criminal,” he said, adding later, “Let the people that already have these, have them.”
Delegate Kevin B. Hornberger (R-Cecil) unsuccessfully proposed making the maximum penalty one year in jail and a fine of no more than $5,000. Moon encouraged the delegates to reject the amendment because of his intent to have the penalty be the same as the punishment for having an automatic weapon.
The bill received preliminary approval by voice vote in the Democratic-majority chamber. A final vote on the measure in the House chamber is likely later this week.
In the Senate, the Judicial Proceedings Committee voted 7-2 on Wednesday evening to advance an identical version of the bill. Frederick County Sen. Michael Hough (R-District 4) voted against the measure. He proposed an amendment — voted down by the committee — that would have simplified the bill’s grandfathering clause to allow continued possession by anyone who legally purchased a bump stock or similar accessory before the bill’s effective date, Oct. 1. As passed by the House, the grandfathering clause would require authorization from the ATF to continue possession of bump stocks, though the bureau has no process for such an authorization and is exploring banning the devices at Trump’s urging, Hough said.
Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller Jr. (D) has urged the committee to send the bill to the floor, where a majority of the chamber have co-sponsored the ban bill.
Republican Gov. Larry Hogan said at a school safety press conference last month that he supports such a ban.
Staff writer Danielle E. Gaines contributed to this report.