No time to go weenie on Maryland gun control

Senate already shows signs of watering down licensing requirement

February 27, 2013|Dan Rodricks

Watch out, ladies and gentlemen, the Maryland Senate — where Democrats outnumber Republicans 35 to 12 — could be going weenie on gun control.

Already, they're caving to the "gun enthusiasts" on the proposal to require a license to buy a handgun in a state where, according to a Washington Post poll, more than 85 percent of us support it — 73 percent strongly so.

By Wednesday, our mighty senators had cut the cost of the license from $100 to $25, which is less than the cost of an annual Maryland fishing license and trout stamp. After hearing the whine of the gun lobby, they cut in half the gun-training requirement from eight hours to four, and they doubled the life of the gun license to 10 years.

Ten years? A driver's license is only good for five years, and it costs $30.

"It would be the longest period in which such a [handgun] license is valid among the states with permit-to-purchase licensing," says Daniel Webster, director of the Johns Hopkins Center for Gun Policy and Research and one of the nation's top analysts of gun laws. "No other state has more than five years. Maryland would have the smallest fee, too."

Which means, if the Senate version of licensing stands, Maryland would not get to boast one of the most stringent handgun laws in the nation. We'd just have one of the most watered-down.

Of course, this is part of the usual sausage-making that goes on in Annapolis. That's what members of the insular political class — the legislators and lobbyists — always say: You can't get common-sense, progressive and popular legislation passed unless you make nonsensical, regressive and unpopular tradeoffs, even in a General Assembly where Democrats far outnumber Republicans.

We have a lot of DINOs — Democrats in name only — wintering in the capital, and we have a lot of people who just go weenie on us, especially after they've seen and heard from overwrought and whiney gun-rights crowd.

That's why, for years before the Newtown massacre, virtually no one in the General Assembly talked about controlling firearms. Same was true of Congress and, until Dec. 14, the White House.

Now, with outrage over Newtown having turned into popular will, it's ridiculous that anyone who calls himself a Democrat would make unnecessary concessions on a provision that would discourage "straw purchases," in which people with criminal records and/or intentions have others buy firearms for them.

And it's doubly ridiculous when you consider that the licensing measure apparently has support across party lines. According to the Post poll, even a majority of people in gun-owning households approve of licensing, with 59 percent saying they do so "strongly." The poll found Marylanders more supportive of stricter gun-control measures than Americans overall.

We are, after all, a blue state.

On the plus side, the Maryland Senate still supports the proposed ban on assault-style rifles, a limitation on ammunition magazines to 10 rounds, and a requirement that someone who wants a handgun submit their fingerprints.

That last item would go away if the Senate president had his way.

Mike Miller has been grumbling that gun licensing is of dubious constitutionality ever since Gov. Martin O'Malley proposed it.

Such a requirement "tramples on the Second Amendment," Miller declared, even though legal scholars, including Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia, have said the Second Amendment is not an absolute right. The Maryland attorney general found that O'Malley's proposals passed constitutional muster.

Still, Miller persists.

Last week, he told The Capital that he "doesn't care for" the idea of requiring people to get fingerprinted. "I've never been fingerprinted as of yet, I'm 70 years old," Miller said. "If I personally were to go to buy a gun, I'd go to Virginia before I'd give my fingerprints to any government agency."

Isn't it great to hear a leader of Maryland government express that kind of dark view of the Maryland government, and presumably Miller means the Maryland State Police.

Of course, it has been pointed out to Miller by now that all kinds of people have to get fingerprints in Maryland.

"Anything to do with child care," said Justin W. Sandridge of QuickFingerPrints.com, based in Howard County. "This includes teachers, day care workers and even parents who wish to volunteer at their child's school are required to be fingerprinted."

You also have to be fingerprinted to sell lottery tickets, get a nursing license, work in mortgage financing or take a job as a security guard, security-system installer, locksmith or private detective.

Jason P. O'Connor Sr., of Absolute Investigative Services Inc. in Towson, adds tow-truck drivers and contractors who work on government properties. Plus, he said: "Taxicab drivers require fingerprinting yearly for their license."

State law even stipulates that fortune tellers in Calvert County, where Mike Miller's from, be fingerprinted. If you need to be fingerprinted to read palms, what's the problem with getting fingerprinted to own a handgun? Never did we hear such whining.

dan.rodricks@baltsun.com

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