Gun-rights advocates rally at Maryland capitol, vowing continued fight against tough new law

Several hundred gun-rights supporters rallied in a defiant spirit outside the Maryland State House on Tuesday, with some making fiery calls to repeal last year’s tough new gun-control law.

“We’re not out here watering the liberty tree yet, but it’s parched,” Del. Michael D. Smigiel, Sr. (R-Cecil) told the crowd, referring to Thomas Jefferson’s remark that “the tree of liberty must be refreshed from time to time with the blood of patriots and tyrants.”

Smigiel also led the crowd through a recitation of the Second Amendment and celebrated vows by some sheriffs around the country, including Garrett County’s, not to enforce gun laws they see as unconstitutional.

Smigiel received cheers when he told the crowd that he has sponsored a bill to repeal SB281, the sweeping gun control law pushed by Gov. Martin O’Malley (D) last year in response to the December 2012 mass shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn.

Others, however, acknowledged the long odds against undoing what is now one of the strictest gun-control laws in the country. Despite feeling outnumbered, several pledged to begin working to change the makeup of the Maryland General Assembly.

“How do we change things?” asked George Durst, of Maryland Shall Issue, a gun-rights nonprofit, and Take Back Maryland, a political action committee dedicated to electing gun-rights candidates. “We’ve got to change the face of the General Assembly. . .It’s going to take years. It’s going to be an evolution, not a revolution.”

Maryland’s new gun law, which took effect Oct. 1, imposes stricter handgun licensing requirements, including fingerprinting and firearms training, and bans the sale of 45 types of semiautomatic weapons and large-capacity ammo magazines. Gun-control advocates said they were confident the law would withstand challenge in the legislature and the courts.

“Really, this is a waste of time because the law is here for good,” Vincent DeMarco, president of Marylanders to Prevent Gun Violence, said in a telephone interview. He also suggested that the demonstrators were outside the mainstream because polls show overwhelming support for the law from the public, including many gun owners.

Josh Horwitz, executive director of the Coalition to Stop Gun Violence, said measures similar to Maryland’s new law have withstood legal challenges in other states. “Also, with the mall shooting in Columbia, there’s going to be very little appetite to make it easier to get guns,” Horwitz said, referring to the killing of three people, including the shooter, at the Mall in Columbia on last month.

Smigiel and other gun-rights advocates have set their hopes on having the new gun control law altered or overturned in the courts. Shannon Alford, a lobbyist for the National Rifle Association in Maryland who spoke at the rally, said afterward that the legal challenge is still pending in Baltimore federal court.

“But if that bill is unconstitutional, I sit on the floor of the House of Delegates and I will stand side by side with every one of you and say, ‘We will not obey an unconstitutional law,’” Smigiel told the rally. “And then sheriffs across this state have stood up and said they will not enforce an unconstitutional law.”

The Baltimore Sun reported last year that Garrett County Sheriff Rob Corley declared O’Malley’s law to be unconstitutional and said he would enforce only certain of its provisions.

Several demonstrators said they felt the urge to action because Maryland has become steadily more hostile to the Second Amendment.

“I think our rights are being trampled on,” said Alan Howlett, a software developer who lives in Annapolis. He said he said he just recently had to chase away a prowler from a neighbor’s property who was looking in his window. “Most people think the police are doing a great job, until they’re not. I think the police are doing a great job, but you need someone, you need them right now,” Howlett said. “When seconds count, the police are minutes away.”

Brian Druschel, 52, of Ellicott City, said the gun-control measure was just one component of Maryland’s drift toward becoming “a socialist state.” But he also said he believes the cause of gun-rights isn’t yet lost.

“I’m convinced there’s a lot more of us than there are of them,” he said.

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