2021 Maryland General Assembly Recap
Quick Summary: With the clock striking midnight on April 12th, 2021, the Maryland General Assembly's 90-day legislative session came to an end. With every session of the General Assembly, new attacks are launched against the law-abiding Maryland gun owners. This year was no different. However, because of some great testimony and advocacy, all the newly-filed bad bills failed. Unfortunately, the General Assembly did, as expected, override the Governor’s veto of the long guns background check bill, passed last year. But, the bills criminalizing owners of homemade firearms and an extreme gun storage bill failed to move. Sadly, all the sensible bills also didn't pass. The details of all these bills are set out below.
We wish to thank those Senators and Delegates who voted and spoke in support of Marylanders' rights to keep and bear arms. Common sense also made a rare appearance in Senate, which passed SB15 and SB309 UNANIMOUSLY. But once again those bills died in the House of Delegates, thereby maintaining the House’s dubious reputation for killing sensible gun legislation.
Governor Larry Hogan had vetoed these bills from the 2020 legislative session, but the Assembly voted to override the vetoes and criminalize the private transfer of ordinary long guns within Maryland. The facts (as taken from FBI statistics) are clear that a person is far more likely to be stabbed or beaten to death than die from a long gun. Requiring background checks for long gun transfers between otherwise law-abiding citizens simply criminalizes the innocent while doing nothing to protect public safety. We have yet to see a situation where a long gun that was legally transferred between two, law-abiding individuals in a private sale was ever used in a crime in Maryland. Never one to let the facts get in the way of an ideological agenda, the General Assembly nonetheless overrode the veto. The upshot is that as of March 13, 2021, those wanting to sell or transfer an ordinary long gun to another person must find a FFL who is willing to “facilitate” a NICS background check at a fee that the FFL is free to set. There are exceptions to the bill’s coverage. Learn more HERE.
This bill extends the time for the Attorney General to complete a study of gun-related crimes and prosecutions within the State and authorizes the Attorney General to farm out the study to a “recognized research institution” in Maryland. The Fiscal Note says that $200,000 was budgeted for this study, but more money may be required. The study deadline is now 2024. We wonder if The Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health will get the contract from Attorney General Frosh.
These bills declare that Marylanders have a right to fish and hunt.
Yes, that's it. For at least one session, the legislature did not spend a great deal of political capital on gun control bills. Instead, most of their time was spent on bills related to police reform and COVID-19 relief. There was fantastic, reasoned, testimony from many of you on the risks posed by these awful bills. The number of gun sales in Maryland more than doubled last year (as measured by NICS checks), to over 302,000. Maybe legislators are starting to realize that these gun bills would criminalize their law-abiding constituents who are buying guns at an unprecedented rate. You can be sure that enforcement of Maryland’s existing web of vague gun laws will continue to be arbitrary and discriminatory, a long-standing reality that is finally starting to be recognized.
What Didn't Pass
So-called "ghost gun" bills
HB638/SB624 and the cannibilized SB190 - Delegate Lesley Lopez and Senator Susan Lee
These bills would have required that current owners of homemade guns serialize and engrave them with their personal information and maintain a private log of ownership of those guns by January 2022. The engraving specifications would have to comply with federal law provisions applicable to manufacturers (18 U.S.C. 923(i)). Legal private gun making would effectively cease to exist in Maryland following that date and anyone who did not engrave their arms by then would be vulnerable to fines and potential jail time.
When HB638 failed to gain any traction in Judiciary, Lopez convinced the committee Chair, Delegate Luke Clippinger to hijack Senator Michael Hough's SB190, which was the cannabis bill that passed the Senate unanimously. In that way, SB190 was amended to include all of the language from HB638. Yet, on the floor of the House, Delegate C.T. Wilson, while not supportive of privately made guns, correctly pointed out the profound legal risks that come with telling users of cannabis that they can lawfully buy and possess guns (they cannot under Federal law, no matter what MD law says). He proposed an amendment that stripped out the bill's original language dealing with cannabis, which the House adopted. We don’t often agree with Del. Wilson on policy matters, but we got to say that his speech on the floor was highly informative and legally correct. We had made the same points in our written testimony on SB190. After a little more debate and the threats of amendments by Delegate Nic Kipke and others, cannibalized SB190 never made it to the floor again.
Delegate Marlon Amprey also had his own bill, but unlike the approach taken by Del. Lopez and Sen. Lee, HB1291 would have forced homemade gun owners to get rid of their lawfully owned property uncompensated (a classic takings) or go to jail. The bill did not have the support of Giffords, Brady, Moms Demand Action, Everytown, all of whom supported Del. Lopez’ bill. HB1291 never got out of the House Judiciary Committee.
Mandatory Storage Bills
SB479/HB200 - Senator Will Smith Jr and Delegates Dana Stein and Sandy Bartlett
These bills would have criminalized gun owners the day it became effective by requiring gun owners to make it impossible for a person under the age of 18 to gain access to firearms in the home (an impossible task). We stressed the impossibility of compliance and pointed out that bill was facially unconstitutional under Supreme Court’s decision in District of Columbia v. Heller, which struck down DC's LESS restrictive storage requirements These bills were heard in their respective committees and never advanced.
Background Checks for Ammunition Sales
HB175 - Delegate Shaneka Henson - HB175 would have illegally commandeered the FBI's NICS by commanding sellers to perform NICS background checks on every sale of ammo. The Fiscal Note, provided by the Dept of Legislative Services, brutally pointed out what we had testified on years passed: federal law bars the use of NICS in this manner. During the hearing, Delegate Henson all but begged the Judiciary Committee to fix the bill. She later withdrew her bill and the bill thus died. If members of General Assembly would do their homework before introducing bills, it would save a lot of time and effort.
A Study on GPS Trackers for Guns
HB773 - Delegate Pamela Queen - This bill was a copy of HB35 that actually passed the House last year, only to die in the Senate in the COVID-shortened session. It would have the State Handgun Roster Board investigate the feasibility of requiring that GPS tracking devices be attached to privately possessed firearms as well as to firearms owned by the police. In short, the sponsor wanted to enable the police to conduct surveillance of your firearm movements. Needless to say, the bill had multiple constitutional problems under recent Supreme Court precedent, which we pointed out at length during the hearing. The bill died in the House Judiciary Committee.
Polling Place Gun-Free-Zone Bills
SB10/HB450 - Senator Jeff Waldstreicher and Delegate Shaneka Henson - These bills would have criminalized the mere possession of firearms within 100 feet of a polling place on election days. The bills were poorly drafted and massively overbroad, as they would have penalized mere possession of a firearm in homes and businesses that happened to be situated within 100 feet of a polling place. They would have punished as well innocent possession by carry permit holders and by law-abiding citizens who happened to drive by a polling place on the way to the range. SB10 passed the Senate with amendments, but common sense prevailed in the House Ways and Means Committee, which never acted on either bill.
The Cannabis Bills
As introduced, these bills would in effect have the MSP turn a blind eye toward those Marylanders who use cannabis when they apply for a license or permit or try to buy a firearm. As previously noted, cannabis users cannot legally possess or receive firearms under federal law. MSI has provided Informational Only testimony on these bills that explained the legal background of this issue in detail. Except for the shenanigans surrounding SB190, explained above, these bills didn't advance to committee voting sessions.
There was one other bill that touched on the issue of cannabis and guns. SB708 from Senator Brian Feldman was a bill that would have legalized the recreational use of cannabis and regulated the cannabis industry within the State. Buried deep within however was language similar to the aims of the prior-mentioned cannabis bills that would have the State try to ignore federal law in regards to firearms ownership. The bill was heard in committee, but never progressed further.
All of the Good Bills
Every bill that would have made gun regulation even slightly more sensible failed to pass. SB309 by Senator Hough would have allowed a Wear and Carry Permit applicant to obtain preliminary approval of the application before undergoing the expensive training required by Maryland law. Once approved, applicants would not be given the permit until their training is completed. That bill passed the Senate, but never got out of Committee in the House. SB15, from Senator Jack Bailey, would have compelled the MSP to issue notices to current permit holders before their licenses expired. Like SB309, that bill passed the Senate but never emerged from the House Judiciary Committee.
The shall-issue bills, SB27 from Senator Bailey and HB845 from Delegate Dan Cox, once again never even got a committee vote. SB826 from Senators Mary Carozza and Justin Ready and its cross-file, HB538 (designating certain high-risk occupations as sufficient to qualify for a carry permit) from Delegate Wayne Hartman also failed to move anywhere after their hearings. Other bills that would have stiffened penalties for gun theft or for committing violent crimes with guns also failed to move.
We know that some of these issues will return next year, such as the so-called ghost gun bills and the storage bills. But, for now, law-abiding citizens may still make firearms for their own private use and firearm owners do not become criminals simply by safely storing firearms in their homes in compliance with existing Maryland law. The fight doesn’t ever end, so be prepared for next year! Now is the time to identify your representatives and let them know how you feel about their legislation and votes in Committee and on the floor of each Chamber. MSI’s Bill Tracker makes it easy to find the relevant information concerning each bill. The Maryland General Assembly website makes it easy to identify all your representatives, both federal and State. Your representatives need to hear from you. We cannot wage this never-ending fight without you.