Monday was the last day Marylanders could purchase handguns without being subject to new fingerprinting and training requirements. The new law, championed by Gov. Martin O’Malley (D) in the wake of the Newtown, Conn., shootings in December, also bans 45 types of assault rifles and magazines that hold more than 10 rounds and includes steps intended to make it harder for those who are mentally ill to obtain firearms.
Maryland’s response to Newtown — which has prompted an unprecedented run on gun purchases in recent months — is one of more than 300 new laws that take effect Tuesday.
Another measure passed by the General Assembly this year will allow police to pull over motorists who are talking on a hand-held mobile phone. Currently that is only a secondary offense, meaning drivers can’t be cited unless committing another violation.
Other new laws that go on the books Tuesday will ban capital punishment, make cyberbullying a crime and require all passengers in a car, including those in the back seat, to wear seat belts.
Debate over the gun law has continued long after O’Malley signed the bill into law in May. On Tuesday, gun rights advocates will make a last-ditch attempt to convince a federal judge that parts of the law violate the Constitution and should be put on hold.
As of Monday, the Maryland State Police reported receiving more than 106,000 gun-purchase applications this year submitted before the new law takes effect. That’s up from 70,099 for all of last year and 46,339 the year before.
“We’ve never in our history seen this amount of firearm purchases,” said police spokesman Greg Shipley, whose agency has struggled to keep up with the required background checks. As of Monday, there was a backlog of about 50,000 applications still waiting to be processed from applicants who won’t be subject to the new law’s fingerprinting and training provisions.
“It’s crazy. People have been lined up around my building here,” said Frank Loane, owner of the gun shop in Pasadena where Mattoon was browsing Monday morning.
Inside the store — about a 20-minute drive from the State House in Annapolis — a half-dozen employees made sales pitches and filled out paperwork as customers continued to file in.
Even some of the law’s strongest backers acknowledge that the spike in gun sales has run counter to their goal of reducing the prospect of gun violence.
“It’s unfortunate,” said Sen. Brian E. Frosh (D-Montgomery), chairman of the Judicial Proceedings Committee. “I think people have been scared into feeling they have to buy guns now, and having another 100,000 guns in Maryland is not necessarily a good thing. But ultimately the law will make people safer.”