Maryland Gov. Martin O’Malley will urge state lawmakers on Wednesday to pass legislation requiring residents to obtain a license before purchasing a handgun, but Second Amendment advocates hope to drown out his message.
Mr. O’Malley, a Democrat, will testify before the Senate Judicial Proceedings Committee in favor of his bill, which would also ban assault weapons, limit magazine capacities to 10 rounds and require prospective gun buyers to complete a safety course and pay a $100 application fee.
However, gun-rights advocates will descend upon Annapolis to rally against a bill that they say tramples on gun owners’ rights and won’t stop criminals who carry illegal guns.
“The overriding problem with the governor’s bill is that it does little to address the bad guys with the guns,” said Delegate Michael D. Smigiel Sr., Cecil Republican, who said rally organizers are expecting 1,000 to 3,000 people. “It deals with ways of curtailing law-abiding citizens from being able to exercise their full Second Amendment rights.”
Mr. O’Malley proposed his legislation last month in an effort to fight gun violence and prevent incidents similar to last year’s deadly shootings in Newtown, Conn., and Aurora, Colo.
While requiring a permit to carry a handgun in public is the norm throughout most of the U.S., only nine states currently require a license or permit to purchase a handgun, according to Johns Hopkins University’s Center for Gun Policy and Research.
Maryland would join Massachusetts, New Jersey and New York as states that require applicants to also provide fingerprints and give state officials authority to reject applications.
Connecticut and Iowa require fingerprints but have no authority to reject applicants. Illinois, Michigan, Nebraska and North Carolina require licenses, but do not reject applications or require fingerprints.
Supporters cite studies showing that license-to-purchase laws in these states have decreased illegal straw purchases and gun trafficking.
“We lose too many American lives to gun violence,” Mr. O’Malley said last week in his State of the State address. “Who can watch the sad images of the last several weeks, who can see the pictures of those young faces and honestly say we are doing enough?”
While gun-rights advocates question the legality of license-to-purchase laws, Maryland Attorney General Douglas F. Gansler, a Democrat, issued an opinion last week saying that such laws are constitutional because the government is allowed to place some regulations on gun ownership.
Mr. Gansler, a Democrat, added that the governor’s bill would not allow the state to confiscate handguns purchased under current laws.
Mr. O’Malley’s proposal has heavy backing from Democrats, but is expected to receive virtually unanimous opposition from Republicans and some conservative Democrats.
In addition to questioning the bill’s impact on law-abiding citizens, Mr. Smigiel argued that the legislation’s licensing and training costs will discourage lower-income residents who might want to purchase a handgun for protection.
He said Wednesday’s rally will be organized by groups including the Second Amendment Foundation and Maryland Shall Issue, two groups that have fought against the state’s concealed-carry permit law, which was struck down last year by a judge who considered its requirement that permit applicants provide a “good and substantial reason” to be unconstitutional.
The state appealed the case to the U.S. 4th Circuit Court of Appeals, which is currently reviewing it.
Mr. Smigiel said the state would be better served to devote more attention to mental health programs and institute tough mandatory sentences for anyone caught using a gun to commit a crime.
“How does raising a fee keep anybody else alive?” he said. “We’re doing just the opposite of what we should do.”