Some leading gun rights advocates in Maryland say they’ve been buoyed by private assurances from Republican Larry Hogan that he would work to expand access to firearms if elected governor, even though Hogan is saying little publicly about that issue as he campaigns in the heavily Democratic state.
In postings on a popular message board and in interviews with The Washington Post, several advocates said Hogan has pledged to install a state police superintendent more sympathetic to gun owners and make it easier to obtain permits to carry concealed weapons, as well as to take other steps that don’t require the consent of the Democratic-led legislature.
“The short of it is that he is with us,” Glen LaAsmar, one of the activists, wrote in a recent posting on mdshooters.com, a message board where Hogan’s agenda has been a hot topic. In interviews, LaAsmar and four others confirmed the authenticity of their comments on the site, which does not require members to use their real names.
Many of the activists felt let down by the state’s last Republican governor, Robert L. Ehrlich Jr., and watched in dismay last year as Gov. Martin O’Malley (D) pushed one of the toughest gun-control laws in the nation through the General Assembly — and some remain wary of Hogan.
But Bill Sutton, who serves as secretary of Maryland Shall Issue, a group pushing for fewer restrictions on concealed-carry permits, said Hogan has told him “there are things he could potentially do to lessen the bite” of Maryland’s gun laws. Speaking for himself, not his organization, Sutton said he thinks gun owners should be patient with Hogan as he campaigns largely on economic issues.
“He flat out said that if he wants to have any chance at winning this election, he can’t go far right,” Sutton, who uses the handle “mxrider,” wrote in a post about a conversation he said he had with Hogan. “He has to reach out to the moderates and conservative Dem’s and has to stay with his current message.”
The Post shared a link to dozens of public comments on the mdshooters.com Web site with the Hogan campaign Wednesday, but the campaign has not responded. Asked about the postings during a campaign stop in Bowie on Saturday, Hogan said he was not aware of them, was not sure what the comments were based on and was not interested in discussing his views on guns in any depth.
“It’s not really an issue in the campaign,” Hogan said.
Hogan is attempting to upset Lt. Gov. Anthony G. Brown, the Democratic nominee for governor, in a state where registered Democrats outnumber Republicans more than 2 to 1. The Anne Arundel County businessman is trying to court disaffected Democrats and independents by stressing issues such as job creation and tax cuts .
As a candidate, Hogan has spoken in general terms about firearms and offered some specifics when asked. In some cases, his comments have echoed those that gun rights advocates say Hogan has made in private conversations.
In a recent radio interview, for example, Hogan said: “I want to make it easier for law-abiding citizens to own guns.”
Hogan also says he wants to make it more difficult for mentally ill people to get weapons and wants Maryland to adopt an instant-background check system used by other states.
His campaign, however, has issued no formal plans regarding gun policy and has not responded to requests to release a copy of a candidate questionnaire he filled out for the National Rifle Association, which sought his positions on a range of gun issues.
Hogan spoke out against the Firearm Safety Act of 2013, the sweeping gun-control law that banned 45 types of assault-style rifles as well as magazines that hold more than 10 rounds and includes new fingerprinting, training and permitting requirements for those seeking to buy a handgun.
But he has repeatedly said that he does not believe the legislature, which is controlled by Democrats, would roll back the law and that he has no plans to ask lawmakers to do so if elected. Gun rights advocates said Hogan has been up front with them about the long odds of repealing the bill.
Still, Brown has repeatedly hammered Hogan for his opposition to the law, including with a provocative television ad that shows a military-style assault rifle resting against a swing set and later against a tree as children run by. “Assault weapons don’t belong in Maryland, and neither do Larry Hogan’s dangerous ideas,” the Brown ad says.
Several gun rights advocates said Hogan has told them he plans to change Maryland’s rules on concealed-carry handguns, which would not require a change in statute.
Under current law, several factors can disqualify someone from obtaining a “wear and carry” permit from Maryland State Police, including a felony conviction. But Maryland also requires applicants to show they have a “good and substantial reason” to carry a gun — and the law leaves a fair amount of discretion to state police to decide what that means.
Under current guidelines, business owners, former police officers, private detectives, security guards and armored car guards may qualify. Others can assert that they need a gun for “personal protection,” but they must submit evidence, such as police reports or witness statements, to back up the claim.
Hogan has said, including in one GOP primary debate, that a desire for “self defense” should be enough to meet the “good and substantial” requirement. Lowering the standard like that, advocates on both sides of issue say, could lead to a major increase in the number of permits in Maryland, which currently stands at about 14,000.
“He has told me personally that it’s on the list,” LaAsmar said of Hogan. “That can be done with the stroke of a pen.”
Mike Pretl, a former chairman of a state board that reviews challenges to permit decisions, said the state police superintendent has the power to “loosen the standard” for what constitutes a “good and substantial reason” to carry a gun. Pretl now advocates for gun-control measures.
As governor, Hogan would control appointments to state boards that have influence over gun policy. Those include the panel that Pretl chaired and a separate panel, called the Handgun Roster Board, which maintains a list of guns available for sale in Maryland.
Gun-control advocates say the next governor and the state police superintendent he selects will play crucial roles in enforcing the Firearm Safety Act .
“It will only work effectively if it is implemented in the right way, if the administration is committed to the funding and the regulations necessary to make it work,” said Vincent DeMarco, president of Marylanders to Prevent Gun Violence.
DeMarco cited several examples of provisions that could be affected, including how aggressively the state police use their powers to monitor firearm dealers. The gun law is also under legal challenge, and a new governor would have some sway over how vigorously it is defended in court.
LaAsmar posted to mdshooters.com following a late August fundraiser that Hogan attended for Tim Walters, a Republican candidate for delegate in Anne Arundel. Hogan was pulled aside at the event by several activists frustrated that he had not been more vocal about gun issues to that point.
“The big thing he asked of Maryland Gun Owners is to bear with him,” LaAsmar wrote, using the handle “Mr H.” “As suspected, this is part of a careful process. . . . He’s keeping it honest, but close to the vest.”
Some regular posters to the site have said they are less willing to be patient, in part because they feel that Ehrlich, who made similar pleas for patience, did not take significant action on guns before being defeated by O’Malley in 2006.
“I hate being treated like a friend in private but a leper in public,” one poster wrote under the handle “teratos.”
Walters, who regularly posts to mdshooters.com and considers himself “an avid Second Amendment guy,” said he thinks Hogan is being “a great tactician.”
“You govern from the middle,” Walters said. “The Second Amendment is a middle issue, I think, but not everyone agrees with that.”