ANNAPOLIS – After two years of unsuccessfully trying to ban assault weapons in Maryland, Sen. Rob Garagiola, D-Montgomery, is changing tactics to target the criminals who use them.
Surrounded by officials from throughout the state, Garagiola announced the “Assault Weapons Criminal Penalty Enhancement Act” at a news conference.
The bill would add up to 20 years to a sentence for the crime in which the weapon was used. It has wide support, with more than 18 senators set to back the bill and numerous law enforcement officials writing supportive letters, Garagiola said.
Baltimore will also back the legislation, Acting Baltimore City Police Commissioner Leonard Hamm said, because it is “consistent with our crime strategies for Baltimore County.”
While “the weapon of choice is revolvers or 9 mm,” Hamm said, “We do come across people who do use these types of weapons.”
“Assault rifles in the wrong hands are a danger to law enforcement and society,” Garagiola said.
Absent an assault weapons ban, something needs to be done, he said.
“I still believe in increasing public safety,” Garagiola said. He wants Maryland to “go after the criminals who use these weapons,”
“This bill goes after them in a major way.”
The goal is to impose state assault weapons regulations since a federal ban on the rifles expired in September. That federal ban was put in place in 1994 and forbade the manufacture of 19 semi-automatic assault rifles. It expired in 2004. Both federal and Maryland state attempts to extend the ban have failed.
In the current proposal, 45 weapons — including the Bushmaster, which was used in the Washington area sniper shootings — would mean greater sentences for criminals using them.
The bill also would ban what it calls the “copycat weapon,” which as defined in the proposed legislation is a semi-automatic weapon with a detachable magazine or a weapon that is designed for high-volume output.
One of the doctors who tried to save sniper victim Conrad Johnson, who was shot while on his bus route in Montgomery County, spoke at the press conference.
Describing the hospital community’s support of the legislation, Suburban Hospital trauma surgeon Dany Westerband said when semi-automatic weapons are used against people there is little chance of survival even with the best medical care.
A firearms and civil rights issues commentator, James M. Purtilo opposes the legislation because it is a “fundamental bill.”
“The bill language would create a brand new legal term, copycat weapon,” Purtilo said, however he said the bill fails to adequately define what constitutes a copycat weapon.
The National Rifle Association of America’s State Liaison Jennifer H. Palmer said, “No matter what’s in it, it is going to be a priority for us to watch what’s in it. . . . See how or if it will change any.”
“I can’t imagine how anybody would have conscience to vote against it,” said Sen. Jennie M. Forehand, D-Mongtomery.
But whatever happens, Palmer said, “It is safe to say the NRA will be watching it.”
CeaseFire Maryland will advocate a complete ban on assault weapons again this year. But this legislation “is a small first step in the right direction,” the executive director Leah Barrett said.