A loophole in Maryland gun-permit laws that allowed some convicted criminals to buy weapons was closed yesterday by the attorney general, who ordered the state police to apply both federal and state regulations in screening applications for firearms purchases.
The loophole was created in April when a Circuit Court judge ruled that the state police could not go beyond the scope of Maryland law in rejecting gun-purchase applications. The state law prohibits gun purchases by people convicted of crimes ranging from arson to murder, but does not cover as broad a spectrum of offenses as the federal statute.
Because of the judge's ruling, an assistant attorney general told the state police to stop applying the federal standards. As a result, 283 people convicted or indicted on criminal charges covered only by the federal law were issued permits to buy guns in Maryland.
After meeting yesterday with the state police superintendent, Attorney General J. Joseph Curran Jr. announced that legislation will be introduced next month in the General Assembly to close the loophole.
Legislation enacted in the next session would not take effect until July 1. In the interim, Mr. Curran said, the police will be instructed to act as if the loophole does not exist -- deciding gun applications on the basis of both state and federal statutes.
"We feel this is such an important issue that we intend to take anybody to court, or will defend our position any time in court that people not get a gun if they are ineligible under federal law.
"We're going to recommend changes in the form given out by dealers when you apply for a handgun that will make it crystal clear that you have to qualify under both laws. If the federal law prohibits a person from possessing a handgun unless they're qualified, it would be appropriate for us not to give that individual a gun."
Mr. Curran said the state is working with the federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms on getting back the guns that were sold to people who are not allowed to possess them under the federal law.
"It may well be a letter from the bureau or a letter from us that they're violating federal law and saying what the penalties are," Mr. Curran said.
The state police already have passed along to the federal bureau the names of the 283 gun buyers convicted or accused of offenses covered only by the federal statute.