Guns rights supporters, opponents gather in Annapolis to be heard on changes to law
Jan Donohoe McNamara supports legislation to limit where people carry concealed firearms.
Her brother-in-law, John McNamara, was among five people shot and killed at the Capital Gazette newspaper’s offices in June 2018.
Cecil County Executive Danielle Hornberger (R) said the legislation attacks law-abiding citizens, infringes on the Second Amendment and would be unconstitutional.
Theirs were just two of many passionate testimonies heard Tuesday at a public hearing before the Senate Judicial Proceedings Committee on Senate Bill 1, titled “Gun Safety Act of 2023.”
Sponsored by Sen. Jeff Waldstreicher (D-Montgomery), vice chair of the panel, the bill was filed just months after the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in June that 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 had required special permission to carry a concealed gun, but the state lifted restrictions in July to comply with the court’s ruling. However, then-Gov. Lawrence J. Hogan Jr. (R) said persons carrying a concealed gun in Maryland would still be required to obtain a permit.
“You have a choice. If you believe that anyone should have any gun anywhere, at any time, then I imagine that you’ll be voting no on this bill,” Waldstreicher said at Tuesday’s hearing. “But if you’re like me and have kids… If you’re like me and want them to live safely… If you’re like me and want to go to a concert, or [Baltimore] Ravens game or children’s playground and know that the guy sitting next to you is not carrying an automatic weapon, [then] you’ll join me in voting for the Gun Safety Act of 2023.”
He presented a version of the bill that ran 13 pages longer than the three-page version of the bill that remained posted online at 10 p.m. Tuesday.
Waldstreicher said the legislation still would prohibit a person from knowingly wearing, carrying or transporting a firearm within “highly sensitive places” such as schools, hospitals and libraries. Other places where carrying a gun would be prohibited include theaters, polling places, a zoo and a shelter used by “homeless individuals.”
Maryland’s current law states that a person cannot carry a firearm in many public places, including legislative buildings, state parks, schools or within 1,000 feet of a demonstration in a public place.
Waldstreicher said the updated version would require background checks to be run on permit applicants to ensure those who may “have a propensity for violence,” or are addicted to drugs and alcohol cannot obtain a concealed carry permit.
The background check would be done by a representative or designee of Maryland State Police.
The updated legislation would require an applicant who seeks a concealed carry permit to be endorsed by four people who are “reputable, not related to the applicant by blood or law” and have known that individual for at least three years before the date that person submits an application.
Sen. Mary-Dulany James (D-Harford), a new member of the Senate Judicial Proceedings Committee, said some revisions in the legislation may not be necessary. For instance, current law already specifies certain places where guns aren’t allowed and that background checks are required to obtain a firearm.
She said the bill could certainly face legal scrutiny.
James also questioned why the legislation would require a person who applies for a concealed carry permit to submit four personal references.
“People would like to have four people to write such a reference…but where’s the authority to require that” for a constitutional right, she asked.
Opponents flood Annapolis
Hours before the hearing began, dozens of gun rights advocates rallied at Lawyers’ Mall with a few messages for lawmakers. “No New Gun Laws” and “Self Defense is a Civil Right,” their signs read.
Mark W. Pennak, president of the gun rights group Maryland Shall Issue, said if Senate Bill 1 passes, it would be challenged in court. Pennak, a lawyer, filed a complaint in federal court against Montgomery County over its ban on carrying guns within 100 yards of “a place of public assembly” including parks, libraries and recreational facilities.
Del. Lauren Arikan (R-Harford) spoke at the rally in support of Pennak and other gun rights advocates.
“Hopefully we can save some of our basic rights from these crazy people,” Arikan said. “If not, we always have Mark Pennak who’s going to come out the woodwork and sue the crap out of them.”
Some at the rally wanted to show lawmakers that gun rights advocates include people from many walks of life.
Daniel Sangaree, 36, of Montgomery County, held up a sign that read, “Armed queers don’t get bashed.” He’s a married gay man.
“Not all gun owners are white conservative Republicans. I want them to realize that we are some of their own base. We matter,” said Sangaree, a federal contractor. “Everyone has the right to defend themselves, but as a gay man, I have increased risk just like any minority [person] does of people who are bigots [and] who are horrible people deciding to do us harm.”
Galen Muhammad, state director of the National African American Gun Association’s Maryland chapter, also had a message for the legislature.
“I want to dispel the rumor that Black people don’t have or don’t like guns,” said Muhammad, also a chapter president of Onyx Sharpshooters in Prince George’s County.
Last week, hundreds of gun control supporters with Everytown for Gun Safety and Moms Demand Action gathered in Annapolis for their annual advocacy day, when they were joined by Gov. Wes Moore (D) and high-profile lawmakers who expressed support for changes to state law.
Tensions flared at times during Tuesday’s lengthy committee meeting that stretched into early Wednesday morning.
At one point, a few gun rights advocates in the Senate committee room wore a patch featuring a Star of David with a gun in the middle of the star, adding a weapon to the symbol Nazis forced Jews to wear during the Holocaust in Europe.
Sen. William C. Smith Jr., chair of the Judicial Proceedings Committee, sternly criticized those wearing the patch and defended Waldstreicher, who is Jewish.
“I think that’s disgusting. So if you have that on your person and you come up here…I just want you to know that I think that’s highly inappropriate and disgusting behavior,” he said. “If you have something like that on and it is a Holocaust reference, take it off or leave.”
A man who testified wearing the patch admitted it was a reference to the Holocaust.
“I respect your opinion,” the man told Smith.
“All right, it’s time for you to go,” Smith responded.
Troopers walked back to the room to escort the man out, but he left without any incident.
The hearing on Waldstreicher’s bill lasted more than four hours. The committee adjourned its meeting around 12:15 a.m.