A couple hundred people rallied at Lawyers Mall in Annapolis on Tuesday with their annual message for state lawmakers: pass stronger gun laws.
“Guns are the leading cause of death for Maryland children and teens, and the gun death rate is increasing in our state for both suicides and homicides. This is unacceptable,” said Alison Rodner, a member of Moms Demand Action’s Maryland chapter.
Rodner joined other members, volunteers and supporters to announce support for two pieces of legislation during this year’s General Assembly session: a measure to create the Center for Firearm Violence Prevention and Intervention and the Gun Industry Accountability Act.
The prevention center legislation — Senate Bill 475 and House Bill 583 — sets aside $10 million to focus on a data-driven public health approach to prevent gun violence, designed to work with local governments, hospitals and community-based violence intervention programs.
The center would be modeled on the White House’s Office of Gun Violence Prevention established in September. Besides interventions programs, another goal is to implement further legislative and executive actions to combat gun violence with initiatives such as requiring safe storage of firearms, strengthening background checks and banning assault weapons.
Rob Wilcox, deputy director of the White House’s Office of Gun Violence Prevention, said earlier this month that Maryland became the first state in the nation to propose a statewide center.
The center proposal is part of the legislative package Gov. Wes Moore (D) released last week.
The Moms chapter called Moore a “gun sense” champion, and he led chants of “Don’t stop!” at the rally Tuesday.
“Guys, we got to get this right. Our lives depend on it. Our future depends on it,” Moore said, staring into a sea of mostly red-clad attendees.
A hearing on the center is scheduled Feb. 14 before the House Judiciary Committee, but no hearing date has been set before the Senate Finance Committee.
The Gun Industry Accountability Act — Senate Bill 488 — is being led by Sen. Jeff Waldstreicher (D-Montgomery) and state Sen. William C. Smith Jr. (D-Montgomery), who serve as vice chair and chair, respectively, of the Judicial Proceedings Committee.
According to language in the legislation, it seeks to prohibit “certain firearm industry members from knowingly creating, maintaining, or contributing to harm to the public through the sale, manufacture, importation, or marketing of a firearm–related product under certain circumstances.”
Waldstreicher sponsored the bill last year, but it didn’t make it out of the committee.
He expressed confidence at Tuesday’s rally that the bill would pass this year. He also had a message for the gun industry.
“Here’s a quick memo to the gun industry: when you stop caring about how your product is being used by bad actors, you are the bad actor,” he said to applause from the crowd. “It is time to end gun immunity this year.”
Constance Jackson of Baltimore attended the rally and appreciated the words from Waldstreicher, Moore and Lt. Gov Aruna Miller (D), who mentioned Jackson’s granddaughter, Diamond Denay Trueheart.
Jackson held a poster that included a Bible verse and a picture of Trueheart, 27, who was shot and killed Jan. 13, 2022, in a parking lot while leaving a hair salon in Baltimore County.
Jackson said she would travel back to Annapolis and testify in support of the gun accountability and firearm prevention center bills.
“You have to change the minds of the individuals that think that they [can] just go out and just take someone’s life and have no consequence for it. It’s just not right,” she said.
Some Republican lawmakers agree — but expressed skepticism about draft legislation that targets “law abiding” citizens.
Senate Minority Whip Justin Ready (R-Carroll and Frederick) said he asks representatives with Moms Demand Action a question every year when they visit Annapolis.
“Why will they not support legislation to actually put the people who are causing the violence in jail?” he said. “Instead, we get these bank-shot bills. Guns are legal products. You shouldn’t be punishing a manufacturer for producing a gun. That’s ridiculous.”
Del. Robin L. Grammer Jr. (R-Baltimore County), who stood outside near the rally, cited the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision in June 2022 striking down New York’s law that restricted carrying concealed guns in public. The case was the New York State Rifle and Pistol Association v. Bruen, which effectively struck down Maryland’s prior gun permitting laws that limited concealed carry permits.
Several months after the court’s decision, Maryland issued nearly 114,000 active permits.
“The Bruen decision has guaranteed the right of Americans to carry,” Grammer said. “More people carrying equals safer communities and passing another law does nothing to reduce crime.”