With Thursday’s override of Governor Larry Hogan’s veto of a bill requiring background checks on all transfers of long guns in the state, Maryland Democrats have revealed themselves to be far more interested in cracking down on legal gun owners than in addressing the sky-high homicide rate in Baltimore.
I had the chance to speak with Maryland Del. Dan Cox while I was filling on WMAL’s morning show on Friday, and the Republican lawmaker was absolutely incensed by the new measure and its penalties, especially when they’re compared to the existing law on the books about stolen firearms.
“Tragically, since September 11, 2001, we have lost over 5,600 people to gun crimes in Baltimore City”, said Delegate Dan Cox.”Most disturbing is that 98% of these gun crimes were committed with stolen or illegally-obtained handguns. Yet House Bill 4 will criminalize a law-abiding American who lends a gun to his friend without running a background check and hit him with a $10,000 fine and up to ten years in prison. Meanwhile, the theft of a firearm – an act that is aiding the most egregious crimes in our state – is only punishable by a $500 fine and up to six months in jail.”
Think about that for a second. The vast majority of guns used in homicides and shootings in Maryland are illegally obtained (and are also handguns, not long guns). Yet stealing a firearm is punishable by just six months in jail, and Cox says that sentence is rarely imposed.
If a Maryland resident loans her neighbor a shotgun because an angry ex won’t leave them alone and they’re scared and defenseless, on the other hand, she could be facing ten years behind bars if she can’t track down a gun shop willing to conduct the transfer.
There were 335 homicides in Baltimore last year, and Maryland’s new background check requirements for long guns wouldn’t have prevented a single one of them. In fact, Maryland’s background check requirements for private transfers of handguns didn’t put a dent in the city’s homicide rate because violent criminals don’t follow the law. Republican lawmakers in Annapolis did their best to point out this obvious fact, but Democrats brushed off their objections.
“This bill is unenforceable”, said Delegate Wendell Beitzel. “How will law enforcement regulate these transactions when they already struggle to deal with regulated firearms in the hands of those who illegally possess them? Criminals will still obtain firearms illegally and ignore these rules. Only law-abiding gun owners will be harmed by the implementation of this bill.”
Delegates also pointed to a 10-year study by UC Davis and the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health that looked at California’s comprehensive background check law for nearly all firearms sales.
“The Hopkins/UC Davis study showed that background checks have no impact on crime rates or death rates,” said Delegate Lauren Arikan. “Even with of the data from a decade of research pointing to the contrary, the author of that study testified in favor of this bill because he said he still believes background checks work. That is not science, that is religion. That is the worst kind of religiosity imaginable. We are passing laws that have no foundation in fact.”
Maryland’s new background check requirement is a feel-good measure that will actually do great harm. Ironically, the same Democrats that just created a crime out of thin air punishable by a decade behind bars are also some of the loudest voices calling for a re-imagining of the criminal justice system and the need for de-incarceration.
“This bill imposes strict liability on a defendant, regardless of his or her intent”, said Delegate Haven Shoemaker. “In other words, the defendant doesn’t have to know the transfer is illegal to be culpable. At a time when the General Assembly spends a great deal of time decriminalizing some crimes and eliminating mandatory minimums for others, it is the height of hypocrisy to impose strict liability for what could be an innocent mistake; like transferring a long gun in the same manner as they’ve been transferred for hundreds of years.”
The body count in Baltimore will continue to be unacceptably high after this new background check law takes effect, but Democrats in Annapolis can pat themselves on the back for a “common sense” measure that makes no sense at all; treating the private transfer of a firearm as if its a violent crime while delivering slaps on the wrist to those who steal the guns that are actually being used to take innocent lives.
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