Darlene Rainey sat outside an Annapolis hearing room on Tuesday, wondering if this would be the time that politicians would listen to her story and take action to cut down on the number of powerful guns in the community.
“We’re losing too many. There’s so many guns on the streets,” Rainey said. “At what point are you going to say no?”
Rainey’s son, Lamont W. Adair Jr., was murdered in Prince George’s County in 2018. Ever since, she’s been an advocate for justice not only for her son’s life, but also for laws that she hopes will keep guns out of the hands of those who would harm others.
She’s been to press conferences and rallies, and on Tuesday she was at the Maryland Senate, where the Judicial Proceedings Committee considered several bills to restrict how people can obtain and use guns.
Rainey joined dozens of others who wore matching red T-shirts representing Moms Demand Action and Students Demand Action, two groups that favor laws they believe will prevent gun violence. Also milling about were opponents of the bills clutching bright orange tote bags bearing the logo of the National Rifle Association.
All told, some 300 people signed up to make their voices heard on a day that’s colloquially known as “gun day” in Annapolis because several gun-related bills were lined up for back-to-back public hearings.
Democratic leaders have tried to steer the conversation away from “gun day” and instead Senate President Bill Ferguson recently called it “firearms safety day.”
Much of the energy from both sides was focused on a bill that would limit where people with concealed carry permits can actually carry their handguns in public spaces.
Known as the Gun Safety Act of 2023, the proposal is a response to a U.S. Supreme Court decision last year that forced Maryland to scrap its rule that gun owners had to show a “good and substantial reason” to get a carry permit, such as handling large amounts of cash for work or having threats against their personal safety.
Following that Supreme Court decision, commonly known as Bruen, guns sales and applications for wear and carry permits jumped up in Maryland.
As originally written, the Gun Safety Act would have banned people from carrying their guns within 100 feet of a “place of public accommodation,” which is a term that broadly applies to hotels, restaurants, theaters, sports stadiums, stores and other public businesses.
But the bill’s lead sponsor, Sen. Jeff Waldstreicher, said Tuesday that he’s revamped the bill, which has been given the designation of Senate Bill 1, an indicator of its importance to Democratic leaders.
Instead of the broad ban on carrying guns in many public spaces, he offered a revised version that: allows private property owners to decide whether or not to allow guns; prohibits concealed guns in “highly sensitive” spaces such as preschools, courthouses, hospitals, libraries and stadiums; and prohibits the state from issuing concealed carry permits to people who have a “propensity for violence,” substance use disorder or mental illness.
“For me personally as a lawmaker and as a father, it’s less of a statement and more of a question: What kind of world do I want to live in? What kind of state do I want to raise my children in?” Waldstreicher said. “A state awash in guns, armed to the teeth and drowning in concealed carry permits? ... That’s not a world I want to live in. That’s not a state I want to raise my children in. I won’t.”
Waldstreicher immediately got pushback from Sen. Bill Folden, who questioned how many killings and nonfatal shootings are carried out by people who legally own their guns. Folden, a Frederick County Republican, is a police officer in his day job.
Waldstreicher’s bill “is not saving these lives,” Folden said. “These lives are being washed off the face of the Earth by illegal gun ownership.”
Meanwhile, in the House of Delegates, Del. Luke Clippinger is offering a different approach to restricting concealed carry permits in Maryland. His proposal includes:
- Prohibiting people from getting a concealed carry permit if they’re on probation for a crime that carries a sentence of at least one year in jail, or for driving while impaired or for violating a protective order.
- Prohibiting carrying a handgun for five years for anyone convicted once of leaving a gun where a child could access it.
- Instituting a lifetime ban on carrying a handgun for anyone with a second conviction of leaving a gun where a child could access it, or in a case where that gun was used to kill or injure someone.
- Raising the minimum age for a carry permit to 21, increasing permit fees and strengthening training requirements.
Clippinger, a Baltimore Democrat who chairs the House Judiciary Committee, noted that the situation of which gun control laws are constitutional is “in flux” following the Supreme Court decision. But it’s important for Maryland to address the issue.
“We’re planting a flag in the ground here and saying, ‘This is where we want to begin,’” Clippinger told reporters Tuesday.
The issue of restricting the concealed carrying of handguns wasn’t the only bill that drew attention Tuesday.
Other measures that were up for discussion included bills that would: create a voluntary do-not-buy list for guns; increase the age to buy rifles and shotguns to 21; allow the state’s attorney general to sue the gun industry for deaths and injuries; and to require the Maryland State Police to collect information about guns that are surrendered as the result of protective orders.
Senators expected to sit in the committee room well into the evening to hear testimony on all of the bills. It’s not clear yet when the committee may vote on the bills.
Throughout the hearing, the committee chairman, Sen. William C. Smith Jr., reminded audience members to remain calm and courteous despite the strong emotions that surround the issue of gun violence.
At one point, Smith asked one person to leave for wearing what he said was an offensive symbol: A Star of David with guns inside.
“I think that’s highly inappropriate and disgusting behavior and it will not be tolerated in this committee,” Smith said. He said such imagery devolves the debate to an undesirable place.
“If you have something like that on and it’s a Holocaust reference, take it off or leave, OK?” Smith said, before asking the man to leave.
And ahead of the hearing, a demonstration outside the State House included a sign that read in all capital letters: “Waldstreicher wants to party like it’s 1938.” That’s an apparent reference to belief that gun restrictions fostered the rise of the Nazis and led to the Holocaust. The nonpartisan fact-checking website PolitiFact has rated that claim as false.
Waldstreicher, who is Jewish, did not publicly address the signs.
Ferguson, the Senate president, said police were monitoring the safety of senators and found no credible threats. That sign, however, was “over the line” and “antithetical to democracy,” Ferguson said.
Baltimore Banner reporter Callan Tansill-Suddath contributed to this article.