WASHINGTON – Maryland police and prosecutors are worried that a congressional plan to repeal some D.C. gun laws will lead to easy availability of guns that will find their way across the city line, including weapons that are illegal in the state.
The House voted 250-171 Wednesday to repeal a District ban on possession of handguns and ammunition in the city, overturn the requirement that all guns be registered with the police and remove a requirement that shotguns and rifles be stored unloaded and locked or disassembled.
Under the measure, any weapon or ammo not prohibited by federal law could be available for sale in the city — including guns banned in Maryland.
Supporters of the change said it will restore D.C. residents’ right to defend their homes. But suburban officials worry that it “just makes it easier for criminals to get even more firepower on the street.”
“It certainly doesn’t do anything to help Prince George’s County in our fight against crime,” said Prince George’s County State’s Attorney Glenn Ivey. He said he fears a situation like the one he saw as a prosecutor in the District, where guns were purchased in Virginia and carried into the city.
“The last thing we need in Prince George’s County is a scenario where they can do that as well,” he said.
Montgomery County Police echoed Ivey’s concerns.
“Any opportunity for more guns to be on the streets of Montgomery County is not something that the Montgomery County Police Department is happy about,” said Capt. John Fitzgerald.
Despite this week’s House action, local lawmakers said they do not expect final passage of the bill before the end of this Congress: The Senate has already killed similar measures twice this session.
But gun-rights groups said the bill is needed. They said it will not increase crime, but bring down crime rates in the city.
“It’s against the law now to own them (handguns) in D.C. and people are getting them in other illegal ways, so how is the law working?” asked Larry C. Moreland, president of the Maryland State Rifle and Pistol Association.
That argument was echoed by Andrew Arulanandam, a public relations agent representing the National Rifle Association.
“Criminals obtain their firearms through illegal means, not legal means,” he said. “Any gun control law targets law-abiding citizens.”
Moreland pointed to Virginia, which he said has a lower crime rate than either Maryland or the District, as proof that fewer gun laws are better at reducing crime. Virginia does not require a permit to purchase, possess or carry a firearm, unless it is concealed.
But gun-control advocates say the proposed change goes too far.
“The gun ban repeal that’s being voted on would allow D.C. residents to buy and openly carry semi-automatic assault weapons,” said Daniel Vice, an attorney for the Brady Center to Prevent Gun Violence. “All types of assault weapons, including those that are illegal in Maryland, would be available in D.C.”
Maryland currently outlaws 15 types of semi-automatic pistols and their copies, such as the MAC 10 and TEC-9, except when in the hands of a member of the military or a police officer. The guns are not banned under federal law, however, and would therefore be available for purchase in the District.
Maryland also requires a seven-day waiting period and background check to purchase a handgun, while federal law requires only a background check run through the National Instant Check System.
Montgomery County State’s Attorney Douglas Gansler worried about the “ready access” that criminals would have to such weapons should the law go through.
“You’re just exposing hundreds of thousands of people who live on the border in Montgomery to the ability to purchase assault weapons, which have no other purpose except for to be used in crime,” he said.
Prince George’s County and Maryland State Police declined comment while the bill was still pending, but Prince George’s Lt. Col. Jeffrey Cox said any change that “could make weapons more accessible is a concern.
“But our officers are trained to handle many dangerous situations,” Cox added.
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