Maryland’s Democratic-controlled House edged closer on Tuesday to a potential standoff with Republican Gov. Larry Hogan by approving legislation that would ban guns at the state’s public colleges and universities.
The bill is one of three gun-control measures being pushed by Democratic leaders, including Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller Jr. (Calvert) and House Speaker Michael E. Busch (Anne Arundel).
The other bills would bar the state from issuing gun permits to individuals on the FBI’s terrorist watch list and require courts to inform domestic abusers and felons, within 48 hours of a conviction, that they must turn over their firearms and verify within three days that they have complied.
[Democrats want to strengthen Maryland’s already strict gun laws]
Opponents have raised concerns that the watch-list bill violates due-process rights. They say individuals can be placed on the roster without first having a chance to challenge the designation.
Maryland has some of the nation’s strictest gun laws, enacted under Gov. Martin O’Malley (D) in 2013.
Hogan, who was endorsed by the National Rifle Association during his run for office, has not announced a position on the legislation. But his spokesman, Doug Mayer, said the governor has “no intention of altering existing gun laws.”
“Overall, the governor believes we should make it harder for criminals and the mentally ill to obtain guns and make it easier for law-abiding citizens,” Mayer said.
Gun rights advocates told The Washington Post in 2014 that as a candidate Hogan had privately pledged to take actions that do not require legislative approval, including installing a state police superintendent more sympathetic to firearms owners and making it easier to obtain concealed-weapons permits. So far, he has taken no such steps.
[Flashback: Gun rights advocates warming to Hogan’s promises]
The bill to ban guns on campus, sponsored by Del. Benjamin S. Barnes (D-Prince George’s), passed by a vote of 80 to 54. It is being considered by the Senate.
House Republicans proposed more than half a dozen amendments during floor debates in recent weeks to soften the measure, including one proposal that would allow students to possess firearms if the state police have determined that they face an imminent threat, such as from a stalker. All of the amendments failed.
Existing guidelines allow each campus to establish its own weapons policies — as long as they don’t contradict state law. Some schools, such as rural Frostburg State University, allow firearms but require them to be registered and stored with university police.
Tuesday’s vote came shortly before the House Judiciary Committee heard testimony on a slew of other gun bills, including one that would increase prison sentences for carrying a loaded firearm without a permit.
Critics at the hearing raised concerns that gun owners from other states could face charges and imprisonment simply for driving through Maryland while carrying a weapon that is legal in their home state.
Del. Luke H. Clippinger (D-Baltimore), who sponsored the bill, said gun owners should trust prosecutors and police to use discretion in such situations. But Tim Twigg, a gun owner from Calvert County, said that doesn’t give him much peace of mind.
“I don’t like leaving it to a judge or state’s attorney,” he said. “I would not like to see an innocent permit holder caught up in that and lose his right for the rest of his life.”
Thomas Hood, a Virginia resident who travels through Maryland almost weekly to visit family in Pennsylvania, testified on behalf of another bill that would address the issue by requiring Maryland to recognize gun permits from neighboring states and the District.
“It’s crazy that Maryland doesn’t have that,” Hood said. “My Virginia permit reciprocates to Pennsylvania, but when I drive up Interstate 81, even for just those seven miles, I could be arrested if I don’t pull over my car and secure and unload my firearm first.”
Baltimore Police Commissioner Kevin Davis testified in favor of the increased sentences for illegal firearm possession, saying his department made arrests for the offense nearly 1,200 times last year.
“Going after criminals with guns is central to the crime fight in Baltimore,” he said. “Carrying a gun can turn an argument into a homicide at the drop of a dime.”