Despite a steady rain and bitter cold, anti-gun violence coalition members packed Lawyers Mall Tuesday urging legislators to pass key firearms safety bills before the 2023 Maryland General Assembly.
The rallygoers kicked off a full day of pushing legislators to pass more restrictive gun laws, including one to tighten wear and carry permissions after former Gov. Larry Hogan lifted Maryland’s restrictions last year following a U.S. Supreme Court decision.
Other bills supported by the coalition would strengthen gun storage rules and hold gun industry members and police officers accountable for gun violence. Gun rights groups say they’ll oppose all of the bills.
Lawmakers and officials, including Gov. Wes Moore and Comptroller Brooke Lierman, joined the Everytown for Gun Safety partners, which included Moms Demand Action, Students Demand Action, Marylanders to Prevent Gun Violence and the Baltimore No Boundaries Coalition.
Even as the number of gun sales and wear and carry permits in the state have skyrocketed in recent months, Moore encouraged the group to “not let up,” and assured them lawmakers in Annapolis supported their actions.
“We’re here to make your job easier,” Moore said. “We’re here to make this movement unnecessary.”
Moore said he took the issue of gun violence “personally.”
“We will make sure that our communities and our children are safe and they have a right to be safe in their own homes and in their own skin,” he said.
Melissa Ladd, Maryland chapter leader for Moms Demand Action, called Moore “Maryland’s first gun-sense governor.”
“We are rallying today because we want to be clear that we will not take our foot off the gas pedal until every community is safe from gun violence,” Ladd said. “When 724 people die in an average year in Maryland due to guns, we know we must do more.”
Survivors whose family members represented that statistic shared their stories.
Among them was Melissa Willey, the mother of a St. Mary’s County teen, Jaelynn Willey, who died after being shot in the head at school. Willey recalled the moment a doctor told her the 16-year-old who loved to swim and spend time with her friends wasn’t going to live.
The 17-year-old who shot Jaelynn used a gun stored in his home. Legislation named for her daughter will force gun owners to ensure guns are inaccessible to anyone younger than 18.
Willley said she’s hoping the law will “close those loopholes and children cannot or should not and will not have access to a firearm.”
Montgomery County Democrat Sen. Will C. Smith Jr. thanked Willey for coming and told her: “We are going to pass safe storage this year.”
In addition to Jaelynn’s Law, other gun safety measures being considered this year include:
- The Gun Safety Act of 2023, sponsored by Montgomery County Democrat Sen. Jeff Waldstreicher, will restrict gun owners from wearing and carrying firearms on certain public and private properties, such as sports arenas, restaurants, theaters, retail establishments and hotels, unless they have the permission of the property owner.
- Proposed legislation prohibits firearms industry members from “knowingly or recklessly” causing harm to the public through the sale or manufacturing of a firearm.
- The General Assembly will also consider whether to raise the legal age to possess a rifle or shotgun to 21, except under certain circumstances.
- The Police Immunity and Accountability Act will hold law enforcement accountable for violating the constitutional rights of Marylanders while performing their duties. Officers may be civil and criminally liable for violations.
Gun rights advocate and attorney Mark Pennak called the Gun Safety Act of 2023 “blatantly unconstitutional” and “a real piece of work.” Pennak, who serves as the president of gun rights group Maryland Shall Issue, says he plans to oppose the bill. Pennak said he has no problem with the state requiring a permit, but believes the Supreme Court’s decision in New York State Rifle & Pistol Association vs. Bruen removes limitations on where someone can carry a firearm.
The highest court in the country struck down New York’s requirement for gun owners to prove a “proper cause” for carrying a gun in public. Weeks later, then-Gov. Larry Hogan ordered the state police licensing division to drop a similar Maryland requirement. The move opened the floodgates for wear and carry permits, and as of January, more than 114,000 Marylanders can wear and carry a firearm in public.
Pennak’s group will also oppose Jaelynn’s Law. There are already state and federal mandates requiring gun owners to secure firearms with other devices, such as trigger or barrel locks, making the law as written moot, he said.
The law intended to hold the firearms industry accountable for causing public harm “would demolish the firearms industry and put dealers in the state out of business,” Pennak said.
He also called “unconstitutional” any law making an 18-year-old wait until age 21 to own a rifle or shotgun. Lawmakers had a task ahead of them in justifying the legislation, he said.
“You’re going to have to come up with an argument that 18-year-olds aren’t covered by the Constitution,” Pennak said.
Sopping wet, advocates prepared to lobby 140 lawmakers during scheduled meetings.
Among them was Eric Morrow, 51, who drove to Annapolis from Bowie because he wanted to influence legislation. The medical device company executive and father of two said, “I think there’s a real need to reduce the gun violence in this country and just wanted to play a part in trying to effect change.”
Dawn Stoltzfus from Anne Arundel County started volunteering with Moms Demand Action after her elementary school-aged son had his first lockdown drill. She said organizing to protect Marylanders from gun violence after Moore’s election “feels like a whole new era.”
Ladd said she expects the bills will meet opposition.
“But our voice is louder and stronger and bigger,” Ladd said. “And we know that the Maryland legislature believes in common sense gun solutions and is on our side. So whatever opposition there may be, we know we’ll overcome it.”