One of the strictest gun laws in the nation went into effect in Maryland on Tuesday. The new law bans assault rifles and high capacity magazines, and makes Maryland one of only six states that requires handgun purchasers to get fingerprinted and take gun safety courses.
Gun owners in the state aren’t happy, and in recent weeks, they’ve been flocking to snap up firearms. On Monday, outside Fred’s Sporting Goods in Waldorf, there was a huge crowd and a countdown sign advertising: “1 day left.”
The law is just a lot of “bureaucratic nonsense,” says gun owner Leslie Cates. “I want to be able to own and have what I like and what I want, and I don’t feel like the government should be able to tell me what I can and can’t have and how I have to get it.”
Gary Gilroy, also shopping at Fred’s, says the new law infringes on his rights. “I think it’s unconstitutional,” he says. “It’s against the Second Amendment.”
A Surge Of Registrations
Joe Herbert, the store owner, says he was ready for the onslaught of customers ahead of the deadline. “I got full staff for the last week and a half … working overtime,” he says.
And, he says, he can’t keep his shelves stocked. In recent weeks he’s done about five times his usual sales.
It’s been like this all over the state. Sgt. Marc Black, a spokesperson with the Maryland State Police, the organization responsible for processing background checks, says the office has been “working 21 hours a day, seven days a week.”
As of September 20, he says, “we’re looking at 106,000 applications.”
That’s more than double the number for all of 2011 and represents an unprecedented surge in gun purchases, he says.
The rush on firearms started after the school shooting in Newtown, Conn., when President Obama started pushing Congress to tighten federal gun laws. That didn’t happen, but in Maryland, lawmakers got behind state legislation.
“People felt that we had to do something,” says Democratic state Sen. Brian Frosh. “And I think we ended up doing something that will save thousands of lives in our state. It’s not perfect, but I think we’ve addressed, in an evidence-based manner, the public health problem we have in this country.”
In addition to establishing strict new fingerprint licensing requirements, the law empowers the state police to inspect gun dealers and punish those who are not following the law.
‘Business Will Still Go On’
Those are two of most effective steps a state can take to reduce violence, says Daniel Webster, director of the Center for Gun Policy and Research at Johns Hopkins University.
“When states have these two critical pieces, they have far fewer guns that are diverted to criminals,” Webster says.
Gun rights supporters haven’t given up fighting the new law. Backed by the NRA, they’ve filed two federal lawsuits. The plaintiffs declined to comment for this story.
Back at Fred’s Sporting Goods, owner Joe Herbert is no fan of the new law, but he isn’t too worried about business. “Business will still go on. Handguns will still be sold,” he says.
Herbert says the biggest thing about the law is that the AR-15, a top-selling assault rifle and the weapon used by the shooter in Newtown, will now be illegal to buy in Maryland.
But his customers will adapt, Herbert says, and so will he. “There’s other sporting rifles that are very, very similar which will still be legal.”
And customers who put in an order for the rifle, or other banned firearms, before Monday’s deadline will still be able to pick them up. The law has no effect on weapons purchased or ordered prior to Oct. 1.