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Long guns under fire: Shore lawmakers react to impending restrictions

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Long guns under fire: Shore lawmakers react to impending restrictions

On March 16, Maryland lawmakers sent House Bill 4, which seeks to require background checks for secondary sales or lending of shotguns and rifles like those shown here at an Easton outdoors show last fall, to Gov. Larry Hogan’s desk to be signed into law.

ANNAPOLIS — After prompting dozens of gun laws advocates and adversaries to battle it out verbally in Annapolis earlier this year, a bill that seeks to require background checks for secondary lending or sales of long guns has passed through the Maryland General Assembly to be signed into law.

The controversial House bill 4’s 31-14 passage in the Senate on March 9 followed its Feb. 4 decisive 87-47 passage in the House of Delegates. The bill cleared its final hurdle Monday, March 16, when the House voted to send it to Gov. Larry Hogan’s desk for approval during the final days of the General Assembly’s 2020 legislative session.

If HB4 is signed into law, it will become illegal for a gun owner to sell, rent, gift or loan their rifle or shotgun to someone else without authorization from a licensee who is to perform a background check on a potential new owner or lessee and then lawfully facilitate the firearm transfer for a maximum $30 fee.

The penalty for anyone who breaks the law, as outlined in the bill, could be up to six months in jail and/or $10,000 in fines.

Transfers the legislation exempts from penalization include those occurring between law enforcement personnel, collectors with a valid license, between immediate family members and sharing of permanently inoperable firearms.

An immediate family member is defined in the bill as a spouse, parent, stepparent, grandparent, step-grandparent, an aunt, a sibling, a step-sibling, child, stepchild, grandchild, step-grandchild, and a blood-related niece or nephew.

Exemptions that were included in the first versions of the bill but were struck through in the final version and therefore would become illegal include: long gun sharing among people at a sport shooting range or gun club, during a legally organized gun-involved competition, performance or practice, hunting and lending a gun to someone who is in imminent danger.

Del. Johnny Mautz, R-37B-Talbot, who voted against the bill, called it a “restriction on lawful gun ownership” and “another layer of penalties” potentially facing lawful shotgun or rifle owners.

“I don’t know what to say, but here we’re talking about the Second Amendment, and it’s a cost to owners who want to buy and sell (guns), and it creates a criminal liability,” Mautz said. “There’s no justified threat or cause for concern by the way this personal property is sold.”

Many gun rights proponents argued through the legislative process that long guns account for “very few” murders in Maryland each year, and therefore the restrictions proposed under HB4 aren’t justified.

But Del. Vanessa Atterbeary, D-13-Howard, the bill’s sponsor, said “between 2013 and 2017, there were 10 reported deaths by long guns that shouldn’t have happened.”

Atterbeary asked lawmakers how many deaths were “necessary to happen so that we do start requiring background checks so that we can make sure felons and abusers don’t have (long guns).”

During a Jan. 31 House floor debate on HB4, Atterbeary referenced people who were killed by long guns in Maryland, saying, “I think their families would thank all of us if we pass this legislation.”

Del. Jeff Ghrist, R-36-Caroline, before the House voted to send the bill to the governor’s desk for approval March 16, asked his fellow delegates, “Do you guys really want to pass this law?”

“These (gun owners) are good, honest people. They have no intention of going out and hurting anybody,” Ghrist said. “(They have) no intention of their firearms falling into the wrong hands. All they want to do is target practice. All they want to do is go out and hunt doves or waterfowl.

“They have no intention of hurting anybody else.”

Nearly all the delegates representing Eastern Shore districts voted against HB4, with the exception of Del. Sheree Sample-Hughes, D-37A-Dorchester.

If the bill is signed into law, it would go into effect Oct. 1, 2020.

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