- The Washington Times - Wednesday, February 10, 2016

ANNAPOLIS, Md. — Democrats in the General Assembly said Wednesday that they will try to expand gun controls this year, hoping to build on some of the nation’s toughest laws by banning firearms on college campuses and requiring a process for those convicted of domestic violence to turn in their guns.

Lawmakers announced the push even as the state’s strict ban on military-style rifles and large-capacity magazines, enacted in the months after the 2012 school shooting in Newtown, Connecticut, have run into trouble in federal courts.

“Guns don’t need to be on college campuses,” Attorney General Brian E. Frosh said. “They don’t need to be in the hands of domestic abusers. These bills provide real measures of safety for real people.”

Democrats are seeking a package of three bills: one to ban firearms on college campuses, one to require courts to inform those convicted of domestic violence they have 48 hours to relinquish their guns and one that would prevent police from issuing firearms permits to anyone listed on the FBI’s terrorist watch list.

On Tuesday, Sen. Jamie Raskin, Montgomery County Democrat, announced an additional two bills that would mandate background checks before the purchase of a rifle or shotgun, and one that would alert law enforcement if a prohibited purchaser attempts to buy a gun.

The bills could cause friction with Gov. Larry Hogan, a Republican who received the National Rifle Association’s support in his 2014 campaign. His spokesperson said Wednesday that the governor had no comment on the bills and was not aware that they would be introduced.

Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller Jr., Prince George’s Democrat, said he couldn’t imagine Mr. Hogan opposing them.

“The person he’s joined at the hip with is [Gov.] Chris Christie in New Jersey, and Chris Christie signed the same bill into law, the no-fly zone [in 2013], and no guns on campus is common sense,” Mr. Miller said. “And the domestic violence, that’s already the law. We just want judges to enforce it, so hopefully he’ll sign all three.”

Democrats said the bills build on the 2013 Firearms Safety Act, a sweeping law that banned the sale of nearly all semi-automatic rifles and high-capacity ammunition magazines that hold more than 10 bullets. It also required mandatory extensive background checks, that all new gun buyers submit digital fingerprints to state police, and licensing for guns other than hunting rifles or shotguns.

A federal appeals court last week said the law infringes on Second Amendment rights and sent it back to a lower court for stricter review.

Mr. Frosh said he will appeal the appeals court’s ruling and expressed confidence that the 2013 law and the proposed bills will withstand court scrutiny.

Republican leaders said they had not yet read the bills but would be open to talking about them.

“The devil’s in the details,” said Senate Minority Leader J.B. Jennings, Baltimore County Republican. “On the domestic violence side, without a doubt, that’s one of the most horrible things that you hear: a domestic violence case that has gone to that point where somebody has actually murdered an individual with a firearm. So that one, I have no problem looking at. Let’s talk about it.”

Mr. Jennings said he would consider the terrorist watch list proposal as well but wanted to know how easy it would be for a person to end up on the list.

Maryland gun rights groups said the bills would do little to curtail rising crime rates.

“These bills introduced today represent yet another attempt on the part of these officials to blame law-abiding gun owners for their own failure to address the real causes of violent crime,” said Mike Doherty, legislative director of the Maryland State Rifle and Pistol Association.

Meanwhile, in Virginia, the House of Delegates passed a package of three bills that were part of a compromise Gov. Terry McAuliffe and Republican lawmakers reached.

Republicans agreed to increase restrictions on gun ownership by those convicted of domestic violence, and to allow state police to conduct voluntary background checks at gun shows. In exchange, Mr. McAuliffe, a Democrat, said he would sign legislation reversing an attorney general’s ruling last year that revoked concealed-carry agreements with 25 other states.

“The agreement secures the Second Amendment rights of law-abiding citizens and takes reasonable steps to make our communities safer,” said House Speaker William J. Howell Jr., Stafford Republican. “This agreement shows what can be accomplished when we set aside our political rhetoric and work together for the commonwealth of Virginia.”

Democrats also praised the bills but said the effort to enact strong gun laws was far from over.

“The primary public safety goal of House Democrats is to keep firearms out of the hands of those who are most likely to commit gun violence,” said Delegate Sam Rasoul, Roanoke Democrat. “These first steps promote firearm safety by keeping guns out of the hands of domestic abusers and gives unprecedented opportunity to perform background checks on more gun sales in Virginia.”

Mr. McAuliffe has defended the gun deal, even as gun control advocates decried the number of concessions he made to Republicans.

Everytown for Gun Safety, a gun control group founded by former New York Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg, helped elect Mr. McAuliffe in 2014 and sunk $2 million into his failed attempt to help Democrats take control of the state Senate.

• Anjali Shastry can be reached at ashastry@washingtontimes.com.

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