Halfway Through the Legislative Session
Halfway Through the Legislative Session
Friday was the halfway mark of the 445th Session of the Maryland General Assembly and a lot of gun bills have been heard but still, more are on the way. As April 10th, the end of session, fast approaches, we’re now at the point where bills will be debated and voted on in their respective committees and then moved to the floor in each chamber. The next three weeks in particular will be quite busy, as lawmakers in both work to get bills to the opposite chamber by March 20th, “Crossover Day,” and give their bills a better chance at passage.
Where do the gun bills currently stand and what’s ahead?
Sensitive Places and Carry Permits
SB 1 Criminal Law - Wearing, Carrying, or Transporting Firearms - Restrictions (Gun Safety Act of 2023)
This ‘Bruen response’ bill was heard on February 7th in the Senate Judicial Proceedings Committee (JPR). An amended version, put into the bill file the day before the hearing, ditched the public accommodations language from the original bill but maintained a ban on carrying on private property without express consent. It also proposed making the permitting process much more burdensome by requiring at least four “reputable” references for the applicant, in-person interviews, and allowing the Maryland State Police to review any information they deem necessary. In a recent interview, Senator Waldstreicher, the bill’s sponsor, indicated that would include a review of applicants’ social media accounts. A similar sensitive places bill, SB 118, was withdrawn by Waldstreicher, as SB 1 incorporates some of what was in this bill.
SB 1 has not yet been scheduled for a voting session, but it is still very much a priority of the leadership in Annapolis. Chair of JPR, Senator Smith, spoke on Kojo Nnamdi’s radio show on Friday about the bill, saying that the committee will move the bill and Maryland law to its “constitutional limit,” acknowledging the new landscape under Bruen. He however also observes that permit holders (of which there are now more than 114,000 in MD - see p.10) are not contributing to violent crimes. Make no mistake, should any provisions become law that infringes upon Marylanders’ right to self-defense in public, we will take any necessary legal action. We would much prefer that it doesn’t come to that.
HB 824 Public Safety - Regulated Firearms - Possession and Permits to Carry, Wear, and Transport a Handgun
Where SB 1 affects carry more broadly, HB 824 from Delegate Clippinger focuses on who can legally possess handguns and who’s eligible for carry permits. It would also double the existing fees of permits to $150 for an initial permit, $100 for renewal, and $20 for duplicates. Renewals would be required every two years instead of three years after the first renewal. The hearing on this bill was at times contentious, but a lot of time was directed at how the State may charge only those fees necessary to cover the cost of administering an otherwise constitutional licensing requirement. The fiscal and policy note notes that the state would see a near 100% profit should it double its fees. That result is unconstitutional under long-standing Supreme Court precedent. The Bill also creates new “disqualifiers” which will undoubtedly will be challenged by those persons who are thereby stripped of their constitutional rights recognized in NYSRPA v. Bruen. We have more on all of this in our written testimony.
HB 481 Criminal Law – Wearing, Carrying, or Transporting a Handgun – Penalty
HB 481 increases the penalty for the illegal wear, carrying, or transporting of a handgun under MD Code, Criminal Law, § 4-203 from 3 years to 5 years. This law is already draconian for a first-time violator, and the bill would make it even worse. Because Section 4-203(a)(1)(i) is a strict-liability statute, merely forgetting one’s permit at home leaves that person vulnerable to prosecution and, upon conviction, prohibited from possessing firearms for life.
In the hearing, there was outspoken resistance not only from gun owners’ rights advocates, but also from advocates for criminal justice reform, public defenders, and the ACLU of Maryland. All cautioned the House Judiciary Committee (JUD) about the effects that exist under current law and how increasing the penalty for the wear, carry, and transport of handguns without a permit will do nothing to increase public safety. There is a Senate version of this bill, but that is currently in the Rules committee as it was introduced late. It may or may not move. However, SB 745 introduced by Senator Folden imposes the same increase in penalty. That bill is being heard in JPR on March 8th. We support legal carry with a permit, but imprisoning an otherwise non-disqualified person for carrying without a permit that he or she might now be able to obtain or afford is extreme. The most an otherwise law-abiding person should face is a fine, not a lifetime disqualification from their right to keep and bear arms. Our full testimony on this point is available HERE.
HB 580 Election Law – Polling Sites – Firearms Prohibitions
This bill returns and, as in years past, it overreaches. MSI Vice President, Katie Novotny, spoke against the bill on February 21st. If enacted as introduced, the bill would criminalize mere possession of a firearm on residential property within 100 feet of any polling site, as well as any firearms possession of passersby within that buffer zone. While Bruen does list polling places as one of the five categories of places where guns can be prohibited, the language used by the Court is “in” and “at.” Nothing in Bruen allows 100 foot buffer zones. Supporters of the bill say that they want to prevent voter intimidation, but such voter intimidation is already illegal under State and federal law.
SB 86 Rifles and Shotguns – Possession – Age Requirement (Raise the Age Act of 2023)
This bill is straightforward — it bans the mere possession of long guns and ammunition by those under 21, thereby stripping 2nd Amendment rights from young adults. It is already illegal for those under 21 to possess handguns, so the effect would be to criminalize the possession of any firearm, thus leaving those persons defense-less. If passed, those affected would have until October 1st, 2023 to dispossess themselves of any firearms they have. The bill was heard on the same day as SB 1 and no further action has been taken on it yet. The bill, if enacted, is dead on arrival in federal court.
SB 113 / HB 259 Civil Actions - Public Nuisances - Firearm Industry Members (Gun Industry Accountability Act of 2023)
As if the JPR session on February 7th wasn’t long enough, SB 113’s hearing took place at midnight. This bill contravenes federal law that protects the makers and sellers of firearms from frivolous civil lawsuits by The Protection of Lawful Commerce in Arms Act (PLCAA). PLCAA has been targeted by national gun control groups since it was enacted in 2005 through various lawsuits, with at least one such suit leaving grieving family members on the hook for costs when their suit failed. A day before the House crossfile (HB 259) of this bill was heard, a federal district issued a temporary restraining order against New Jersey’s version of this law. SB 113 / HB 259 is modeled after that law and it would meet a similar fate should it be enacted in Maryland. No movement in either committee has happened on these bills yet.
SB 858 / HB 307 Firearm Safety - Storage Requirements and Youth Suicide Prevention (Jaelynn's Law)
SB 656 Criminal Law - Failure to Properly Store Firearm - Death of Another
HB 307 was met with fierce opposition when it was heard on February 15th. NO ONE disagrees with the safe storage of firearms. However, the bill is dangerously vague on what’s required of gun owners and is likely unconstitutional by banning the right of gun owner to have access for “immediate self-defense.” In one exchange, Delegate Conaway questioned how a gun owner is supposed to quickly retrieve their ammunition and load their firearm while being attacked in their home under the bill.
In the Senate on February 21st, another bill on storage, SB 656, , and SB 858 were heard. SB 656 takes a different approach to this issue by increasing the penalty to 10 years imprisonment for access by a minor through simple negligence where death resulted. We think these bills should be amended to focus on those who are reckless or “grossly negligent” with their firearms’ storage, rather than subjecting every gun owner to vague and unconstitutional requirements.
Other Bills on the Move
Two bills heard earlier in Session are moving ahead. Delegate Attar’s HB 159 Criminal Procedure - Warrantless Arrest - Straw Purchase Participant is on its third and final reading this week in the House. It passed the Judiciary Committee unamended and with bipartisan support. We have serious concerns about how this bill could be enforced, which you can read about in our testimony.
HB 162 Firearms - Maryland Voluntary Do Not Sell Firearm Registry - Establishment from Delegate Moon would create a voluntary list of people who would be barred from purchasing firearms. The bill was originally heard on February 1st and is slated to be in a subcommittee workgroup session on February 27th at 4pm. The list cannot be entered into the federal National Instant Criminal Background Check System (NICS) and, unlike in states, where authorities are full point-of-contact states with the NICS, the Maryland State Police do not conduct the background check for the sale of long guns. Therefore, a firearms dealer has no idea whether an individual is on the list. Yet, the bill would hold the dealers held criminally liable for the sale.
You can and should respectfully talk with your lawmakers about your ability to protect yourself. Don’t know which state senators and delegates represent you? Find out HERE.
Stay tuned to MSI for updates on all of these bills. If you use a calendar app, be sure to subscribe to our Gun Bill Tracker by inserting this link into it: https://bit.ly/3Z67kMq
Gun Bills Ahead this Week - 2/27 thru 3/3
There are two gun bills MSI supports being heard on March 1st at 1pm in the Judiciary Committee. Testimony on these bills can an be submitted only on Monday, February 27th from 8am to 3pm. The bills are:
HB 750 Gun Theft Felony Act of 2023 by Delegate Muñoz
This bill would make it a felony to steal a firearm. We agree. Currently, firearms theft is treated no different than the theft of any other item worth less than $1500. The Maryland sentencing guidelines impose only parole for the first violation and allow parole for the second violation. It is nothing short of bizarre that the State treats actual thieves of firearms so lightly. Stolen guns are crime guns. There is every reason to treat such thefts seriously.
HB 860 Public Safety - Permit to Wear, Carry, or Transport a Handgun Denial - Refund of Application Fee by Delegate Hartman
HB 860 would refund the $75 application fee to those denied a Wear and Carry Permit for lack of a “good and substantial reason” between July 5th, 2019 and July 5th, 2022. This is an extremely fair bill. While it took a decision of the Supreme Court in Bruen to so hold, the “good and substantial” standard has always been unconstitutional. We appreciate the sponsors for bringing this bill forward. The Senate crossfile, SB 463, is being heard on March 9th.
You can watch the hearings on these bills from the MGA website or via each committee’s YouTube page.
House Judiciary Committee YouTube
See our guide on submitting testimony and using your MyMGA Account here: https://bit.ly/3QKUQa2
If you already have a MyMGA Account, signup here:
As always, follow our Gun Bill Tracker to stay on top of the latest coming from the General Assembly. If you use a calendar app, be sure to subscribe to our Gun Bill Tracker by inserting this link into it: https://bit.ly/3Z67kMq