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Maryland’s restrictive gun laws drive dealer to Pennsylvania to make a living

- The Washington Times - Sunday, September 15, 2013

Jim Greer stood beside his desk in the small back office of Angus MacGregor's Trading Post in Waldorf, Md., and rifled through several papers at the top of a file box.

In two weeks, he will be shuttering his firearms business and reopening in Pennsylvania, a state he said is much more welcoming to a firearms dealer than Maryland.

Wearing khaki camouflage pants and a green shirt that offsets his salt-and-pepper goatee, Mr. Greer held up three thick papers. They are expired Maryland firearms dealer licenses and are useless in Waldorf, but Mr. Greer has plans for them in Pennsylvania.

"I'll use these for target practice," he said.

Leaving the town he has called home for 24 years wasn't always in the cards for the 55-year-old businessman, but it became a reality this year when he saw the direction state lawmakers wanted to take on gun control.

The Firearm Safety Act of 2013, passed by the Democrat-controlled General Assembly in April, is one of the most sweeping gun control packages in the country. The legislative package adds 45 guns to a list of banned assault weapons, limits handgun magazines to 10 rounds, and requires gun buyers to submit their fingerprints and obtain handgun qualification licenses.

The laws take effect Oct. 1, which is also the cutoff date for grandfathering firearms applications and purchases.

Mr. Greer trails off when he considers the impact of the laws and the resulting rush for gun purchases caused by the new rules.

"Not every store is in the same situation I am, but for a small-business guy like me. Once the bill went through the House and Senate and looked like it was actually going to pass, I saw that it was going to be impossible to make a living."

For the past four years, Angus MacGregor's Trading Post has kept a steady business selling firearms, accessories and ammunition from a two-story reconverted home in Waldorf. Until Saturday, the last day to buy guns from Mr. Greer's Maryland store, the store's gun room displayed an array of rifles and handguns.

On the opposite side of the house is a much smaller collection of model-train supplies, remnants of Mr. Greer's original idea for a hobby store which opened 11 years ago.

"I did surprisingly well," he said, adding that the tanking economy also brought bad times to the hobby market.

Forced to look for another source of income, Mr. Greer drew from a childhood interest. While growing up in Ithaca, N.Y., he collected guns from the Ithaca Gun Co. and knew there was room for another dealer in the Waldorf firearms market.

"I thought if I got my federal firearms license, it might help the business," Mr. Greer said. "It worked. People were so happy to have another choice in town to buy guns. It was a welcome addition to the town."

Gov. Martin O'Malley, a Democrat, proposed the firearms act in January after the mass shooting a month earlier at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn.

"I couldn't even believe they were even thinking about doing stuff like this," Mr. Greer said. "The gun laws in Maryland are already extremely restrictive."

Current law requires a purchase application, which is forwarded to the licensing division of the Maryland State Police. Officers check a series of 16 databases to make sure the prospective buyer is not prohibited from owning a gun. Once that process is complete, the application is verified, the gun dealer is notified and the buyer may pick up the gun.

The state police have a seven-day window to perform the background check and deny the application if necessary. The dealer then can release the gun, though doing so "is much more complicated," Mr. Greer said. "I don't want guns going into the hands of the wrong people. We are the final checkpoint before sending guns out in the public."

Since the Oct. 1 deadline was set, Maryland State Police have been overwhelmed by what officials said are unprecedented numbers of firearm purchase applications.

As of Sept. 6, the licensing division received 88,884 applications and processed 48,934 of them, police said. Up to 200 state employees were recruited this month to help enter confidential information into computers to help speed up the process. That move has touched off a wave of criticism from firearms advocates claiming privacy violations, and at least one formal complaint by a Maryland delegate to the state's attorney general.

State police said it plans to start conducting background checks Monday with the help of 20 additional police officers from the Maryland Transportation Authority, the Maryland Department of Natural Resources, the Maryland Transit Administration, and Maryland Capital Police. By law, background checks must be conducted by police officers under the supervision of the state police.

Mr. Greer's office has been receiving state police checks on applications from as far back as May, and that is without the laws requiring fingerprinting and a handgun license.

As of Oct. 1, anyone looking to buy a gun must get a handgun qualifying license, which includes four hours of handgun training taught by a certified instructor and time spent firing at a range.

Just what that course entails, or what is on the application for a license, is anyone's guess, Mr. Greer said.

"No one really knows what's on the application," Mr. Greer said. "There's not enough ranges to handle this."

State police said an application process that complies with the laws has been developed by the state police information technology department and is scheduled to be implemented Oct. 1.

Police will have a 30-day window to process the application, Mr. Greer said, "so at best you can't purchase or pick up your gun for a minimum of 30 days."

"They're already behind on applications because of the buying frenzy," Mr. Greer said, suggesting that the most realistic scenario could be 60 or 90 days before an application is approved.

"Ninety percent of my store's sales are handguns," he said. "I can't survive for a month. A business needs its cash flow."

For the rest of this month, Mr. Greer will spend half of the week in Waldorf packing up the office, and the other half settling into his home and office, which is minutes from the Seven Springs ski resort and about an hour southeast of Pittsburgh.

"I'm getting a little piece of heaven," he said. "I get to keep my business. I can start selling guns tomorrow out of there. It's a very gun-friendly state — for now."

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