Tips for your Testimony in the Maryland General Assembly
We welcome you, your friends, your family, and all 2nd Amendment and self-defense rights supporters to testify before the Maryland General Assembly in Annapolis. As current or potential gun owners, it's in everyone's interest to keep an eye on what our lawmakers are doing. We all know the effect atrocious gun laws have on us and the best way to prepare for what may be on the horizon is to read the bills and act!
Committee hearings set the tone for how a bill may (or may not) progress. Your voice is urgently needed here as bills are more easily amended or sometimes squashed because of hearing testimony. Testimony stays as a part of each bill for all time and committee members do remember how these hearings go. Some lawmakers have a vision of gun owners not based in reality. Educate them. Help them understand. Your words and input may very well make or break a given bill.
All current gun-related legislation is being tracked on our website with URL, tinyurl.com/guntracker. You can read the entire text of a bill, who introduced it, our position and testimony, and current bill status. Audio/Video streams and recordings are available for committee hearings there as well.
The Legislative ProcessThe Maryland General Assembly meets for 90 days each year from January thru April and is made up of two chambers: the Senate and the House of Delegates comprised of 47 Senators and 141 Delegates, respectively. Bills are introduced into each chamber for their First Reading and then referred to the committee that reflects the area of law or policy affected by the bill.
Visiting the Committees
In normal times without a pandemic, we'd be meeting our lawmakers in Annapolis. While we cannot be there in person, bill hearings moved online where anyone with an internet connection and a MyMGA account may participate and make their stances on the issues known. As of this writing, all testimony in House committees is via Zoom. Senate committees will use Zoom through 2/11/22. Testimony after that date would be in-person only, but written testimony can still be submitted (this guidance document is available HERE). All committee hearings will be available to watch live on YouTube and also among the various committees' own YouTube pages (we've broken the links out to many of them toward the bottom of the Bill Tracker's page). Most, but not all, gun-related bills are introduced into the Judiciary committees of each chamber. In the House, there's the House Judiciary Committee (JUD) and in the Senate, the Senate Judicial Proceedings Committee (JPR). Currently, JUD is Chaired by Delegate Luke Clippinger (D) and Vice-Chaired by Delegate David Moon (D). Senator William Smith (D) Chairs the JPR and Senator Jeff Waldstreicher (D) serves as the Vice-Chair. Sometimes gun-related bills find their way into other committees. You can see all of those HERE by toggling between the Senate/House tabs on the left side of the page. Each committee has its own rules for the submission of testimony and whoever is chairing each committee decides the procedures for what bills are called, the order they're called in, when and who may testify, for how long, and any other conditions they deem necessary. These rules may change, so it's best to defer directly to the committee's site for reference on the procedures for this:
House Judiciary Witness Guidelines
Senate Judicial Proceedings Witness Guidelines
To sign-up to testify on a bill, you must first make a MyMGA account. You will be asked to provide identifying information and a confirmation will be sent to your provided email address (Note: ONLY enter an organization in the last field if you've been given express permission and instruction by that organization to speak on its behalf. No one speaks on behalf of Maryland Shall Issue except for the President or anyone the President specifically authorizes). Do understand that any submitted testimony is public record and searchable online.
The signup window for bills is only available two business days ahead of a bill's hearing between the hours of 10 am and 3 pm. If a bill is scheduled to be heard on Monday or Tuesday, signup is available on Thursday and Friday, respectively.
Once you've signed in, navigate to Witness Signup which you can get to by clicking the MyMGA logo in the top right of the webpage. Select the bill or bills you'd like to testify on and whether you are speaking, submitting written testimony, or you can (and we encourage you to!) select "Both." The committee does not have to let you speak, as the Chairs have wide discretion over how the hearing proceeds, but your written testimony and stance will always be with the bill file.
Select your position (Favorable, Favorable with Amendments, Informational Only, or Unfavorable). Then select which kind of testimony you're providing (again, doing both is preferred). If you'd like to simply state your position on a bill, you may just select your position and then select "None" in the testimony box. If submitting written testimony, you will need to upload a .pdf. Take your time here and be deliberate with your choices. Review your choices before clicking the Save button toward the top of the chart.
Written testimony is the only method this year to be sure that your input is given for or against a bill. You're also not limited by time like you are when speaking and are free to be as descriptive as you please. All written testimony should include your name, address, contact info, and clearly state your position: Support, Oppose, or Informational Only. Likewise, you can ask the Committee for a favorable or unfavorable report. Testimony must be submitted in PDF format via the MyMGA Witness Signup page.
All oral testimony is being presented via Zoom (at least through 2/11 in the Senate, as mentioned above) and all participants must have a camera and microphone available from the device you're using Zoom from. You will be contacted via email before the hearing to let you know whether or not you've been selected to testify. You are NOT guaranteed an opportunity to speak before the committee. The Chairs have discretion over how many witnesses there are and who's chosen. As stated, each committee has its own rules for how testimony will play out. Generally (but not always), a bill or series of bills will be announced. The sponsor of the bill (Senator or Delegate) will describe the bill and testify on why it’s needed. They may bring up witnesses they’ve selected to speak in support of the bill. Once they’ve finished, the chair of the committee may call upon a few pre-selected participants. Others among the public may be chosen. Though you might not be picked, be prepared in case you are. The witness will be given a set time to testify (usually only a minute or two) on the bill or bills before them. Reading directly what you’ve submitted as written testimony is generally frowned upon. Instead here are some tips to help you along:
- Remember that whether you like it or not, you're an ambassador for the supporters of the 2nd Amendment and self-defense rights supporters sitting behind you and the rest of us. Do everyone proud!
- Briefly introduce yourself and where you're from.
- Respectfully speak your mind.
- Drive home how the bill personally affects you.
- Use your personal experiences and expertise to advocate from positions of strength.
- Avoid redundancy. Make or further a point that has not been stated yet by someone else.
- Be sincere and concise.
- Dress and present yourself appropriately.
- Remain civil.
This is very much like live TV, so dress yourself and your background for the part. Committee members may ask questions of you, so be ready to think on your feet. When the committee is finished hearing you, they’ll call the next name and so on. If you’re called upon and someone has already covered your points, it doesn’t hurt to simply say “Support” or “Oppose” and cede your time (the Chair likes that). Even a cheeky "Ditto!" can do.
Other bills may be heard before the gun-related bills come up, so be prepared to wait for a potentially long time to speak. These hearings can last quite a while and sometimes very late into the evening (and sometimes longer!).
We have a running playlist over at our YouTube Channel of testimony so you can get a feel for what to expect.
As always, you can reach out to Maryland Shall Issue from our website, social media, or at for any other questions and help you may need. Joining MSI will ensure that you are kept up-to-date on the happenings in Annapolis and help us to protect, promote, and restore the self-defense rights of Marylanders. Again, you can follow all of the bills this session by bookmarking and checking tinyurl.com/guntracker.