Maryland's History of Gun Control


ANNAPOLIS—The Maryland Senate is set to vote on Gov. Martin O’Malley’s package of new gun legislation in the coming week.

If approved, the law would ban assault rifles, decrease the maximum capacity of ammunition magazines from 20 to 10, update handgun licensing requirements to include digital fingerprinting, improve school security and restrict the ability of people who have been involuntarily committed to psychiatric facilities from purchasing guns.

But gun restrictions are not new in Maryland, dating back to at least 1886, when the legislature passed a bill stating the only way someone could carry a firearm, concealed or not, was if the person was a public official who needed a firearm as part of their official equipment.

Five decades later, both nationally and in Maryland, the government attempted to eliminate crimes committed with machine guns, such as the 1929 St. Valentine’s Day Massacre in Chicago, where seven mobsters were fatally shot.

In 1933, Maryland passed the Uniform Machine Gun Act, which banned the possession and use of machine guns, except for in military, scientific and keepsake purposes. It also required that all existing machine gun owners register their firearms.

In 1934, more than five years after the massacre, Congress passed the National Firearms Act. The act imposed a tax on certain firearms, and required those firearms be registered.

Sen. Jamie Raskin, D-Montgomery, said throughout history, gun legislation, like most legislation, is reactionary, and usually passed after a tragedy.

“Maryland has a strong history of firearm ownership and people are protective of their firearm rights. Something big has to take place before we are shocked into making a change,” Raskin said.

Maryland was ahead of the federal government again when, in 1966, it required a seven-day waiting period for gun purchasers, and background checks performed by the Maryland State Police.

The federal government did not pass such a requirement until 1994, when Congress passed the Brady Handgun Violence Prevention Act, named after James Brady, who suffered a serious gunshot wound to the head in the attempted assassination of President Ronald Reagan in 1981.

Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller Jr., said he feels Maryland has historically been ahead of the curve on gun laws.

“I think it stemmed from the urbanization of our society, particularly Prince George’s County, and with that came the increased crime,” Miller said, adding that the urbanization in Baltimore also contributed to the increased crime. With that came a law mandating a jail sentence for illegal possession of a handgun.

In 1972, Maryland made it so that only a citizen with a “good and substantial reason” could carry a concealed handgun in public, and any person caught illegally possessing a handgun would be sentenced to jail.

Maryland’s strict carry permit law contrasts that of other states in the country in recent years. Many states, including Virginia, Texas and Florida, have looser restrictions on concealed carry permits.

But in 2012, in the case of Woollard v. Sheridan, a trial court ruled the “good and substantial reason” clause to be unconstitutionally broad, saying the law was designed to keep guns off the street, but didn’t necessarily make citizens safer. The law is allowed to stand during the appeals process.

During the 1980’s an inordinate number of crimes were being committed with low quality handguns, known as “Saturday Night Specials.” The state legislature banned these weapons, and developed the Handgun Roster Board in 1988.

The board determines what guns can or can’t be sold in Maryland.

The following year, Maryland expanded the seven-day waiting period. This bill added assault rifles, such as the AK-47, to the list of guns that required background checks.

During the 1990’s, in an effort to curb the highest violent crime rates since before 1975, Maryland passed a flurry of gun control legislation.

Starting in 1992, gun owners had to secure their firearms, so that children under 16 can’t use guns while they are unsupervised.

The following year, the General Assembly required the same background check process for purchases at gun shows. President Barack Obama is trying to pass a federal version of this law that applies in all 50 states.

In 1994, Congress instituted an assault weapons ban that lasted 10 years. The Public Safety and Recreational Firearms Use Protection Act prohibited the manufacture and sale of certain semi-automatic firearms. Obama wants to renew the ban.

In 1994, Gov. William Donald Schaefer and the legislature banned detachable magazines with a capacity of more than 20 rounds and certain weapons defined as assault pistols.

O’Malley wants to take this limitation a step further to ban detachable magazines of more than 10 rounds.

Some legislators in the 1994 session wanted to institute multiple restrictions on firearms. Failed proposals included: a ban on handgun and ammunition sales, a license to purchase requirement, and allowing jurisdictions more freedom to place extra restrictions on firearms.

The Maryland Gun Violence Act was a package of laws, passed in 1996, that made straw purchases a crime, and limited regulated firearms purchases to one per month.

The bill also allowed search and seizures for firearms at domestic violence locations, and allowed judges to order the surrender of firearms during the span of a protective order in a domestic violence case.

Former Gov. Parris Glendening followed up his 1996 package with one in 2000 that required all firearms be childproof and have a safety device.

The Responsible Gun Safety Act of 2000 required that all handguns made before January 1, 2003, be equipped with an external safety device. All guns that were made after that date had to have the safety device integrated into the firearm itself.

This is usually represented by a switch the operator pushes up or down to lock and unlock the firearm.

That bill also updated the Handgun Roster Board, instituted a required safety course for purchase of a handgun, and made ballistic fingerprinting a requirement in a regulated firearm purchase. O’Malley wants to update the safety course as part of his public safety package.

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