The state is among six, plus the District, that limit the sale of high-capacity magazines. Of those, however, Maryland is the least stringent, defining large capacity as those holding in excess of 20 rounds. O’Malley’s plan would halve to 10 the number of rounds that magazines would be allowed to hold in Maryland. A poll released Sunday showed that he will start efforts to sway the legislature on his gun-control package with broad public support for that measure, as well as for restricting the sale of assault weapons.
O’Malley’s plan includes a blanket ban on all assault weapons, and aides said it would focus particularly on features that enhance a weapon’s lethality.
A bigger say for the state
More broadly, however, O’Malley’s plan would give Maryland a far greater say in all future gun sales, limiting purchases to those who qualify for a license, which aides said would be issued by the Maryland State Police.
The governor’s plan would, for the first time, require almost all prospective gun owners in the state to submit to digital fingerprinting. Buyers seeking hunting rifles and shotguns would be exempt from the licensing requirement. Currently, only those seeking a permit to carry a concealed weapon must submit to fingerprinting.
To purchase handguns and other types of firearms, however, a buyer who is deemed eligible for a license would subsequently still have to complete all existing steps to obtain a gun permit, including submitting to a second background check at the time of purchase and abiding by a seven-day waiting period before receiving the weapon.
Vincent DeMarco, a Maryland-based public-health advocate and gun-control activist, said the sort of licensing system that O’Malley is proposing can significantly curb “straw purchases” — the buying of a gun for someone who is prohibited by law from possessing one. DeMarco said a straw purchaser would be unlikely to risk going to a state police barracks and submitting to a fingerprinting no matter the money that could be made off facilitating the transaction.
Straw purchases remain a particular problem in Prince George’s County and in Baltimore, Maryland law enforcement officials say.
“It really is the most effective tool a state can use to reduce gun deaths,” DeMarco said. “I’m thrilled Governor O’Malley is proposing this. Straw purchases is the way criminals get guns.”
O’Malley’s plan also addresses access to guns by those under mental health treatment. His plan would give police new authority to take guns away from state residents ruled mentally incompetent — whether for psychiatric disorders or for old age.
Authorities would also be able to ban guns from psychiatric patients subject to civil commitment if they are deemed a danger to themselves or others.
Mental health issues
The O’Malley administration’s effort embraces some of the recommendations made this month by a task force on guns and the mentally ill that was appointed by the state government.
But the governor’s emerging package departs from one of the central recommendations made by the task force.
The group had called for new mandatory reporting requirements for psychologists and a host of other professionals, including social workers, addiction treatment counselors, educators and probation agents. Someone who threatens “serious violence” toward a particular person or threatens to commit suicide would have to be reported to local law enforcement officials, according to the task force recommendations.
The O’Malley effort takes a different approach. It broadens the categories of people prohibited from possessing firearms beyond the current standards, which include that a person suffers from a mental disorder and has a history of violent behavior or that a person has been confined for more than 30 consecutive days in a facility that treats mental disorders.
The administration is calling for two additional categories: people under guardianship who can’t care for themselves or manage their affairs and those who have been civilly committed, if a judge finds evidence that they are a danger.
The state would also establish a 24-hour hotline for people to report a family member or friend who they think is suffering a sudden mental decline in late adolescence.
O’Malley’s plan steers clear of calls from the National Rifle Association and some leading Republicans in Congress to put armed guards in schools. Instead, he proposes spending $25 million in the coming year to begin to tighten physical security at the state’s public schools, including using uniform video surveillance, automatically locking doors, and using shatterproof glass and buzzer entrance systems.
Kate Havard and Michael Laris contributed to this report.