In response to SCOTUS opinion, Senate committee will consider bills this week to limit concealed firearms possession
Denise Reid has an unfortunate level of knowledge about gun violence, with 11 family members shot or killed. That includes her son, Tavon Terrell Waters Sr., who succumbed to his injuries in April 2009, more than two years after a bullet severed his spinal cord and paralyzed him from the neck down.
Reid, a 58-year-old Baltimore City resident, still doesn’t know who specifically shot her son, but she memorializes him through advocacy with Moms Demand Action’s Maryland chapter. Reid plans to join dozens of others scheduled to testify on various gun bills before the Senate Judicial Proceedings Committee on Tuesday in Annapolis. That same day also marks the last day of National Gun Violence Survivors Week.
“I would like to see mental health organizations be aligned with these causes because it’s crucial,” Reid said. “People feel hurt and left out. We need to help our cities heal…[from] the gun violence.”
Reid said in an interview that she will be in Annapolis in support of the Gun Safety Act 2023 sponsored by Sen. Jeff Waldstreicher (D-Montgomery).
Waldstreicher, vice chair of the Judicial Proceedings Committee, has two other bills scheduled for hearings Tuesday: Senate Bill 86 that would prohibit anyone younger than 21 years old from owning a rifle or shotgun, and Senate Bill 113, which would allow victims of gun violence to sue gun manufacturers. The manufacturers bill has been cross-filed in the House of Delegates with Dels. Vanessa Atterbeary (D-Howard County) and Samuel Rosenberg (D-Baltimore City).
Of the trio, the bill expected to receive the most attention is the Gun Safety Act, which is Senate Bill 1, signifying its position as a top Senate priority for the 90-day session
“Senate Bill 1 is less of a statement and more of a question: What kind of world do we want our children to inherit? It’s deeply personal for me,” said Waldstreicher, who has a nine-year-old son, and two 13-year-old twins, a boy and a girl. “It could be a world awash with firearms everywhere and that’s just not a world, not a country, not a state I’m willing to accept.”
His comments similar to those from Senate Pres. Bill Ferguson (D-Baltimore City) at a press conference last month.
“When I walk into a doctor’s office, or I go into a child care facility, or I go into a church, I don’t want to wonder, if the person next to me is carrying a firearm, whether they’ve had a good or bad day,” Ferguson said. “…When I go to the doctor, I want to go to a place and get my health care serviced. I don’t want to sit in the waiting room and wonder who may or may not be carrying a weapon.”
Part of the pending legislation would prohibit a person from knowingly wearing, carrying or transporting a firearm within 100 feet of a “place of public accommodation:” a broad definition of places that include everything from hotels and restaurants to sports arenas and retail stores. The bill also would prohibit anyone from carrying a gun onto someone else’s property without express permission.
Maryland’s current law states that a person cannot carry a firearm at places including legislative buildings, state parks, schools or within 1,000 feet of a demonstration in a public place.
The legislation comes months after the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in June the New York’s concealed carry permit law violated the 14th Amendment of the Constitution.
The court’s decision in New York State Police & Rifle Association vs. Bruen concluded that residents did not need a “good and substantial” reason to carry a concealed gun. Maryland State Police also previously required special permission to carry a concealed gun, but the state lifted restrictions to comply with the court’s ruling.
“The Supreme Court has forced Maryland’s hand with the Bruen decision and now we have to act,” Waldstreicher said in an interview Wednesday. “My strong concern is that after Bruen, every routine dispute turns into a possibly deadly dispute. In a post-Bruen world, if everyone has weapons everywhere, every small disagreement can become something larger very quickly and that’s what I’m scared of.”
Sen. Minority Whip Justin Ready (R-Carroll County) called the proposed legislation “blatantly unconstitutional” and “overreacting” to the Supreme Court decision.
“Maryland is not the wild, wild west,” Ready said in an interview. “We have background checks. We have extensive training requirements that in some cases are pretty expensive, too. Unfortunately, there’s some folks who have the perspective that anybody who has a gun is somehow bad. It’s law-abiding citizens that are exercising that right [to carry a firearm].”
He said the Republican Caucus plans to soon release criminal justice legislation to include a focus on enforcement against repeat violent offenders and those previously charged in using illegal firearms to “intentionally harm someone multiple times.”
On the House side, Del. Luke Clippinger (D-Baltimore City), chair of the House Judiciary Committee, said he hasn’t seen all proposed legislation from his colleagues, but anticipates more firearm-focused legislation before the chamber’s filing deadline this week.
“I’ve been looking at and talking about this [gun] issue for about three years,” he said in a brief interview Friday. “I know [the Senate’s] hearing is on Tuesday. I’m talking to members and we may have something more to talk about real soon.”
The number of concealed carry permits being sought in Maryland has exploded since the Bruen decision this summer.
Since June and until Dec. 31, the state police approved more than 80,000 gun permits. The average permits issued between 2018 to 2021 was no more than 14,000, according to state police.
During a briefing last month before both the Senate Judicial Proceedings and House Judiciary committees, state police officials offered other statistics about gun ownership in the state: As of last month, the state’s total wear and carry gun permits are nearly 115,000. The two majority Black jurisdictions of Baltimore City and Prince George’s County have the highest number at 17,464 and 12,856, respectively.
Elizabeth Hilliard, assistant director of government relations for the Maryland Office of the Public Defender, said Waldstreicher’s bill could negatively affect residents in those two jurisdictions. For instance, she said residents who own a gun in high-density area are far more likely to live near public places like a bus depot or parking lot.
“We understand the desire for public safety and for people to feel secure in public places,” Hilliard said. “However, we are worried about the enforcement because again, disproportionately laws tend to be enforced against Black and Brown Marylanders than the way that they are enforced on white Marylanders.”
With tens of thousands of permits being issued, she said legislation should assess ways to improve the state’s conceal carry permit process.
“We have an unprecedented number of people applying for gun ownership and wear-carry permits,” Hilliard said. “Should we not think about the smartest ways to contemplate those permits and their impact on…public safety?”
On a national level, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention released data last year which showed firearm homicide rates grew by nearly 35% from 2019 to 2020. Maryland ranked 18th nationwide with 13.5 deaths per 100,000 people with 803 total deaths.
According to the Gun Violence Archive, which tracks mass shootings nationwide, about three dozen occurred this year.
Some of them include two in California where 11 people were killed in a majority Asian American community celebrating the Lunar New Year, and seven people who worked on a farm.
About a dozen people were shot at a nightclub in Louisiana.
Everytown for Gun Safety, an advocacy organization that promotes stronger gun laws, ranked Maryland as having the eighth strongest guns laws in the nation.
Members and volunteers with the group rallied at the State House last week to encourage lawmakers to pass stronger gun laws.
One particularly high-profile supporter stood in the rain with them: Gov. Wes Moore (D).
“Proud to stand with Moms Demand today in Annapolis. There is no higher priority for a chief executive than keeping people safe,” Moore said in a tweet after the event.
Attorney general joins fight
Meanwhile, Attorney General Anthony Brown (D) joined 15 other state’s attorneys nationwide and filed a brief asking the U.S. Court of Appeals to reverse a New York court opinion to throw out the Concealed Carry Improvement Act, a wide-ranging bill passed by the New York State Assembly days after the Bruen decision.
The expanded law includes provisions being considered in Maryland’s Senate Bill 1, including requiring express consent to carry firearms on private property and dramatically increasing the number of public places where carrying a gun would be prohibited.
The brief notes that the Second Amendment grants the ability to implement firearm laws “within the longstanding tradition of states regulating how and when property owners exercise their right to exclude the carry of firearms.”
“The ability for states to enact reasonable gun safety laws enables them to fulfill a traditional regulatory role of protecting their residents,” Brown said in a statement. “Gun violence is an epidemic. States have a Constitutional right to restrict who may possess firearms, and where those firearms may be carried, in the interest of public safety.”
Mark Pennak, president of the gun rights group Maryland Shall Issue, said during a briefing last month that the Bruen decision outlined five “sensitive” places where firearms can be banned: schools, government buildings, polling places, legislative assemblies and courthouses.
“The common denominator for all those five is they’re small discreet areas which can feasibly be secured by security measures,” he said. “Anything beyond those five has to be justified by the government…because the scope of the Second Amendment is construed by reference to when it was adopted, which was when the Bill of Rights was adopted in 1791. That’s your legal, analytical approach.”
Long guns at 21
Waldstreicher’s second bill will focus on increasing the age to own rifles and shotguns from 18 to 21.
He said the bill would be complement federal law, which doesn’t allow a person to own or possess a handgun until age 21.
“This simply makes our long gun statute analogous to our handgun statute,” he said.
The legislation has some exceptions, including use at a gun range, in self-defense “against a trespasser into the residence,” and by a member of the armed forces or a person who uses a shotgun or rifle for employment.
“[The legislation] doesn’t in any way limit someone’s ability for self-defense. It doesn’t limit anyone’s ability to hunt with their children, and it doesn’t limit anyone’s ability … to bring their children to the range,” Waldstreicher said.
Sen. Jack Bailey (R-St. Mary’s) disagrees with the proposal, especially when a person in the military can carry a gun at age 18.
“You could go to war and fight for your country at 18. But yet, you could not possess a gun in your house when you came home until you were age 21. That makes absolutely no sense,” Bailey said in an interview. “There is not a reason for us to attack any law-abiding citizen and take liberties away from them that are granted to them through the constitution.”
Waldstreicher’s third gun bill focuses on firearms manufacturers and sellers.
The bill proposes to prevent the sale or distribution of a firearm to a straw purchaser, trafficker or a person permitted from possession of a gun under state or federal law.
It would also prevent a sale to “a person who the firearm industry member has a reasonable cause to believe intends to use the firearm-related product” to commit a crime or harm someone.
Waldstreicher said the bill would work around the federal Protection of Lawful Commerce in Arms Act, a law passed in 2005 that grants broad immunity from liability for gun manufacturers in federal court. Waldstreicher said the law doesn’t apply to state courts.
For instance, state legislatures in New Jersey and Delaware approved similar legislation proposed by Waldstreicher, authorizing the attorneys general in those states to sue gunmakers.
In New Jersey, the public nuisance law signed by Gov. Phil Murphy (D) signed in July, states the attorney general can seek legal action if a member of the gun industry “knowingly or recklessly contribute to a public nuisance…through the sale, manufacturing, importing, or marketing of a qualified product.”
More importantly, Waldstreicher said, his bill would allow people who are victims of gun violence or residents whose loved ones died due to gun violence to sue gun manufacturers.
As of last week, he hasn’t heard from any gun manufacturers, but “I’m sure I will [Tuesday]. I’m ready.”
Gun violence survivor Denise Reid said she will also be there Tuesday, but in support of Waldstreicher’s gun safety bills.
Reid said she was informed young people shot her son, but still doesn’t know who specifically is responsible. However, she isn’t concerned about that.
“I pray for [those] young men. This is a clarion call to help make a difference. Not so much of what happened to me, but how I can help other [people],” she said. “My faith is very strong and sustained me. This is greater than me.”