Lawmakers in Prince George’s County, Md. hate guns so much they want to brand anyone convicted of violating one of the state’s convoluted firearm statutes. Stab someone with a knife, and the county won’t care or take notice of you after you serve your time. Sell a handgun that’s not on the state’s list of approved firearms, and the Washington suburb will mark you as a criminal and hold you up to public ridicule.
Beginning July 27, anyone convicted of a gun offense in the county must register with the chief of police. The person will be required to provide a description of the crime, conviction date, home and work address and other “identifying factors.” The offender is then forced to check in with the registry every six months for at least three years. The county council, which voted unanimously for the ordinance last month, said the purpose was to help the police “track repeat offenders” and “assist in subsequent investigations.”
Maryland’s attorney general ruled in late June that the list must also be made public. A spokesman for Prince George’s County Executive Rushern L. Baker III said they are “working through the process” on how to make it publicly available. County politicians studied neighboring Baltimore city and District of Columbia gun offenders registries when drafting the legislation. The Baltimore list was upended in 2011 when a circuit court ruled that the law creating it was “unconstitutionally vague and overly broad.”
The D.C. city council started its list in 2009 after the Supreme Court forced Washington to end its 30-year handgun ban. The list is supposed to be an internal tool for the Metropolitan Police Department (MPD) to monitor offenders, though the police are allowed to share the list with any federal, state or local government agency.
As an example of how ridiculous these registries can be, former Army Specialist Adam Meckler, a veteran of both the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, is branded a convicted criminal on the D.C. list because he absent-mindedly left 14 rounds of 9mm in his bag when he went from his Virginia home to a VFW in the city. He committed no other crime and had no gun with him. Spc. Meckler, who has an otherwise spotless record, said that being photographed and fingerprinted was humiliating and made him feel as if he “was registering as a sex offender.”
The number of people swept up by such lists is considerable. According to an internal MPD database, there have been 1,726 people arrested in D.C. since 2009 for unregistered firearms, which was the top charge for 366 of them. In that same period, there have been 2,258 people charged with unregistered ammunition and 197 of those were the top charge. None of these people would have been arrested or branded a few miles away in Virginia because nothing they did is considered a crime.
Though not as bad as the District, Maryland’s gun laws ignore the meaning of the Second Amendment. A federal judge recently ruled the state’s de facto ban on concealed carry unconstitutional. Instead of finding new ways to stigmatize gun owners, Prince George’s County should focus on balancing its budget by cutting wasteful spending — starting by eliminating this useless registry.
Emily Miller is a senior editor for the Opinion pages at The Washington Times.