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Housewife-activist wants referendum on Md. gun law

A Montgomery County housewife and political activist has revived a stalled referendum effort against Maryland's recently passed gun-control bill, breaking from a plan favored by the National Rifle Association and leaving her the daunting task of producing thousands of signatures in about two weeks.

Sue Payne has set up a website called Free State Petitions, an online petition service similar to MDPetitions.com, which was used to collect enough signatures to successfully put the Dream Act, gay marriage and redistricting to a public vote last year after each was passed by the General Assembly.

Ms. Payne is the only person organizing an effort to put the Firearm Safety Act on next year's ballot and — at least until Election Day 2014 — stop the Maryland government from enacting some of the most sweeping gun control laws in the country. Delegate Neil C. Parrott, Washington Republican and the man behind MDPetitions.com, dropped a similar effort and announced last month he would support a planned lawsuit by the NRA that would challenge the legislative package in court.

"Whether or not citizens get to exercise their right to a referendum under the Maryland Constitution is not a call that Neil Parrott gets to make," Ms. Payne said. "If we get this petition signed, it stops the bill for 18 months. For 18 months, you get to buy a gun, be grandfathered in, and people get to keep their jobs."

Maryland lawmakers passed the gun-control package early last month. Among the law's provisions are a limit on the capacity of handgun magazines, a requirement that prospective gun owners obtain licenses for newly purchased weapons and provide their fingerprints as part of the application process. The law adds an additional 45 guns to a list of banned weapons, but provides a clause that grandfathers people who own or purchase their firearms before the law takes effect in October.

The language for Ms. Payne's petition was approved May 3, and she must collect more than 18,000 signatures — a third of the required total 55,736 signatures — by May 31 to meet an initial requirement. If successful, she must collect the remainder by the end of June.

She said she's spent about $700 of her own money for printing costs, and though she didn't have an exact count of signed petitions she's upbeat about the public's response to date.

"Everyone has just sprung alive," she said. "I've got sheriffs and police officers, firefighters, average citizens, gun shops, barbershops, restaurants, all taking petitions and signing up."

Shannon Alford, Maryland liaison for the NRA, said the association was aware of Ms. Payne's petition, but the organization "continues to believe that court proceedings and litigation are the appropriate way to approach this."

Mr. Parrott's group had submitted paperwork for a petition, according to the Maryland Board of Elections, which was why his mid-April lawsuit announcement came as a surprise to some residents. Mr. Parrott has said he favors the lawsuit because he does not think a constitutional right should be put to a public vote.

Erich Pratt, spokesman for the Gun Owners of America, which is based in Springfield, said his organization has decided to support Ms. Payne's effort because "we still may get to try to head this off in court, but if we're able to get a referendum on this, at least we get 17 months of freedom where the law will not be in effect."

"We either win on the referendum and beat it there," he said, "or if we lose, we're not worse off than we were, and then it can go to court at that point."

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