There’s a certain type of bravery taking place in the nation’s 19th most populous state, whose border is about two miles from the Washington Navy Yard, scene of a horrifying mass gun attack.
A tough new gun law takes effect in Maryland Oct. 1. It’s not lip-service tough. Not politically-measured tough. This law is tough in a way that confirms the bravery of the state legislators who voted for it and Gov. Martin O’Malley who signed it.
The law should be a blueprint for the nation. Here’s what it says:
If you want to buy a handgun, you must be fingerprinted, take a safety test and get a $50 license. Even then, you may only purchase one such gun every 30 days.
If you want to buy an AK-47, AR-15 or any of 45 other semi-automatics and copycats, forget it. You can’t.
You also can’t buy a magazine that holds more than 10 rounds, and you can’t own the type of “cop-killer” bullets that have led to the deaths of at least 35 officers in the last decade.
There’s a lot more: a uniform procedure by which dealers and state police register firearms; a ban on those with criminal records or mental health problems from owning guns and all types of ammunition, and a new requirement for state police to shut down rogue dealers whose guns show up in a disproportionate number of crimes.
It’s tough. You know that because the NRA and a lot of its supporters here hate it.
And you know it has teeth because for the last month or so there’s been a run on handguns and automatic weapons at shops like Realco Guns here in District Heights. Statewide, gun sales in September have been about seven times the levels of a year ago.
That’s an unfortunate byproduct of the new law. Even more unfortunate is that until other states pass similar laws, and until the federal government deals more aggressively with Internet guns sales, Maryland’s efforts will only be partially effective.
“Our tears are not enough,” President Obama declared after 12 people were shot by a gunman at the DC Navy Yard. But the president’s own gun legislation has been blocked in Congress and has no chance in this session.
Also troubling is that firearms manufacturers remain exempted from the type of product-liability laws that govern so many other products. Indeed, since 2005 federal law has moved in the opposite direction by offering specific protection to gun makers in lawsuits and other claims.
Violent crime here in Maryland has already reached an historic low according to state figures. But Gov. O’Malley notes, “Just one life lost to senseless violence is one too many.” He correctly labeled the new law “a common sense approach” to dealing with the nation’s gun nightmare that has extended from Aurora, to Newtown, to the Washington Navy Yard - with many horrifying stops between.
Colorado’s lawmakers have also addressed the gun plague bravely, with new laws that expand the state’s background-check system to include private sales; keep guns out of the hands of criminals; limit ammunition magazines to 15 rounds, and prohibit domestic abusers from buying or keeping guns.
Which state’s lawmakers will be the next to show enough gumption to implement similar laws?
Here in Maryland, the man behind the counter at Realco Guns was struggling to serve a crowd of customers on a weekday morning, just a few days before the new law was to take effect. “We don’t give out information, we don’t do interviews, and we don’t answer questions,” he said.
Then, taking a quick step back, he added, “Unless you want to buy a gun.”