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Bill requiring background checks for private long gun sales moves forward in Maryland House

Chamber of House of Delegates, Maryland State Legislature. (Irteagle102704/Wikimedia Commons)

The Maryland House of Delegates is moving forward a bill that would require background checks for all purchases of long guns, including shotguns and rifles.

The measure is a priority of gun control advocates and, after receiving preliminary approval Saturday, it is set for a final vote Monday.

The bill closes what some say is a gap in state law that allows private sales of shotguns and rifles without background checks. All sales of handguns and long guns from licensed dealers require background checks.

“It closes a significant loophole,” said Del. Vanessa Atterbeary, a Howard County Democrat who is the bill’s main sponsor.

Atterbeary’s bill was initially much broader, creating a long-gun license and a registry of long-gun owners. But those provisions were stripped out by the House Judiciary Committee.

“It got gutted, in my opinion,” Atterbeary said.

Atterbeary said the revised bill still leaves a loophole. Maryland residents could buy rifles and shotguns in other states that don’t require background checks and then bring them into the state.

Still, she said, the version moving forward would be a significant policy improvement by requiring more background checks. She said the background checks — which take about 20 minutes and can be completed at a licensed dealer — will flag people who are prohibited from buying a gun for reasons such as being previously convicted of violent crimes.

Gun control advocates, including those with Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense in America and Everytown for Gun Safety, have focused on the long-gun bill this General Assembly session. Some Moms Demand members wearing matching red T-shirts observed the House of Delegates session from the balcony.

The man who has been charged with murder in the deaths of five employees at The Capital-Gazette newspaper office in Annapolis last year used a shotgun. Officials have said he bought the gun legally.

Jan Donohoe McNamara, an Everytown volunteer whose brother-in-law, John McNamara, was killed at the newspaper, said the attack showed “the destructive power of a shotgun.”

“Rifles and shotguns are every bit as dangerous as handguns, and should never be sold without a background check,” she said in a statement.

Opponents say that the background check requirement is cumbersome and infringes upon the Second Amendment right to own guns. They argue that long guns are rarely used in murders and other crimes of violence, and therefore shouldn’t be further regulated.

“Criminals don’t use long guns. They use handguns, for crying out loud,” said Mark Pennak, president of the advocacy group Maryland Shall Issue. “All this does is create criminals unnecessarily out of completely law-abiding people.”

Pennak said gun owners have been selling shotguns and rifles privately for generations, and many may unwittingly violate the law — if it passes — because they don’t know about it.

Those who do know about it may not be able to get the background checks done, Pennak predicted. The bill requires the buyer and seller to go to a licensed dealer to get a check through the FBI’s National Instant Criminal Background Check System, or NICS. Pennak questions whether the FBI will allow licensed dealers to run NICS checks on behalf of private sellers.

Pennak said his organization will challenge the measure if it becomes law.

“It is ripe for a lawsuit,” he said. “If this becomes law the way it is written, it simply is not enforceable.”

A companion bill sponsored by Sen. Susan Lee, a Montgomery County Democrat, has not advanced in the state Senate. Atterbeary said she’s hopeful the Senate will consider her bill once it passes the House of Delegates.

The House of Delegates was in session on Saturday afternoon in advance of a procedural deadline on Monday. Bills must be approved by at least one chamber — the House or the Senate — by the end of the day on Monday to guarantee consideration in the other chamber.


© 2019 The Baltimore Sun

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