U.S. Senate candidate Del. Kathy Szeliga (R-Baltimore County) is declining to support stricter firearms laws, despite meeting with gun-control activists last week and strong backing for such measures from Maryland voters.
Szeliga, the state’s House minority whip, did not budge from her position on the subject when she met Thursday with activists and victims of gun violence, who want her to back a federal bill written by her opponent, U.S. Rep. Chris Van Hollen (D-Md.), and two others that failed in the U.S. Senate this year.
“She wasn’t outright confrontational, but she wasn’t agreeing to any of the measures to reduce gun violence,” said Jen Pauliukonis, president of Marylanders to Prevent Gun Violence, which arranged the gathering.
Instead, Szeliga expressed a desire for stricter enforcement of existing gun laws.
“One of the things we all agreed on was that we must have judges and prosecutors who enforce the gun-related laws already on our books,” she said in a statement Friday. “Too often, we see violent criminals return to the streets they have previously terrorized, only to commit more violent crimes.”
Szeliga’s stance on gun control contrasts with the positions taken by Maryland’s Democratic congressional candidates, all of whom have co-sponsored Van Hollen’s bill or pledged to back it if elected in November.
Van Hollen’s proposal, which has stalled at the committee level, would create federal financial incentives for states to establish handgun-licensing programs similar to the one former Maryland governor Martin O’Malley signed into law in 2013. Szeliga voted against the state measure, which also banned assault rifles and limited ammunition clips to 10 rounds, giving Maryland some of the strictest firearms regulations in the nation.
A Washington Post poll that year found that Marylanders overwhelmingly supported stricter national gun-control laws, with 63 percent saying they favor such legislation, compared with 34 percent who said they oppose it.
Advocates say licensing laws help reduce firearm homicides and prevent guns from flowing from states with lax purchasing rules into the hands of criminals in states that do have such regulations. But gun rights advocates say permit-to-buy laws restrict the constitutional right to bear arms while failing to block criminals from obtaining the weapons through illicit means, such as theft, straw purchases or the black market.
Marylanders to Prevent Gun Violence also called on Szeliga to support legislation from Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) that would bar people on federal terrorist watch lists from buying firearms and another bill from Sen. Chris Murphy (D-Conn.) that would require background checks for gun purchases nationwide. Both failed in the Senate this year amid opposition from the National Rifle Association.
Conservatives attacked Feinstein’s bill on grounds that the watch lists are flawed and that the government has not developed a fair process for suspects to challenge their inclusion on the rolls, potentially allowing authorities to remove a person’s Second Amendment rights without due process.
Pauliukonis said the watch lists should still play a role in gun control.
“We want to make sure if someone is as dangerous as the CIA and FBI say they are, and too dangerous to fly on an airplane, then they are considered too dangerous to possess firearms,” she said. “If someone wants to work to fix any of the due-process problems, that’s a separate issue.”
Rockville resident Iris Sherman, one of the gun-violence victims at Thursday’s meeting, said she supports licensing requirements. She was struck by a .45-caliber bullet fired from a school playground in December while driving to pick up her son at a Metro station.
The round stopped in her right thigh, about a half-inch from her femoral artery.
“I survived and feel amazingly lucky, but I’ll never be the same,” Sherman said. “I feel like I need to take this empowerment and make an impact.”
Szeliga said she was moved by the accounts.
“As a wife and mother, hearing the stories of the mothers who lost their children was especially heartbreaking,” she said in her statement. “When I’m elected to the Senate, I will continue to meet with all Marylanders, whether we agree on every issue or not.”
Szeliga spokeswoman Leslie Shedd challenged Van Hollen to meet similarly with gun rights advocates.
“It’s important to listen to the other side and hear what they have to say,” she said. “That’s how we find common ground and get things accomplished instead of sticking with your side.”
Van Hollen campaign spokeswoman Bridgett Frey accused Szeliga of putting the interests of the gun lobby above public safety. She said the congressman will “continue to fight for common-sense measures that both respect the Second Amendment and save lives by keeping guns out of the hands of criminals, terrorists and those convicted of domestic violence.”