WASHINGTON – Maryland’s congressional delegation generally supports new gun control legislation proposed in the wake of the Dec. 14 shooting in Newtown, Conn., that claimed the lives of 20 schoolchildren.
Proposals for increased regulations on weapon types, background checks and ammunition magazine size have circulated through Congress, though only a few bills have been formally introduced.
Rep. Elijah Cummings, D-Baltimore, sponsored one of them: a bipartisan bill to make gun trafficking a federal crime and attempt to stop so-called “straw buyers” who purchase guns with the intent of passing them on to criminals.
“I know for a fact that (President Barack Obama) supports it,” Cummings said of the bill in a recent interview. But, he said, Obama “would like to have a package of bills” rather than one specific measure.
Obama signed 23 executive orders on gun control in mid-January. And at the end of his Feb. 12 State of the Union speech, he said the families of victims of gun violence “deserve a vote,” though he did not propose specific gun control policies.
Cummings’ nephew was shot and killed in 2011, which has made gun control a personal issue for him.
“It makes you mourn for what could have been,” he said. “That mourning will probably last me until I die.”
Rep. John Sarbanes, D-Towson, calls gun control a “long-term concern” of his and has co-sponsored unsuccessful gun control legislation in the past.
“I’m just hopeful that the conversation continues and that we get some meaningful action this time,” Sarbanes said in an interview. “If we can’t act now I don’t know if we’ll ever be able to act as a nation.”
Sarbanes, who serves on the House Energy and Commerce Committee’s health subcommittee, sees a “public health component” to gun control.
“We often don’t look at it through that lens but I think that’s an appropriate lens,” he said.
Rep. C.A. Dutch Ruppersberger, D-Cockeysville, “supports the Second Amendment, but…doesn’t think private citizens should be able to purchase weapons of war,” said Jaime Lennon, his communications director.
Ruppersberger, who owns guns, supports “fair, reasonable and comprehensive reforms,” Lennon added, giving no further specifics.
The state delegation’s lone Republican, Rep. Andy Harris, R-Cockeysville, takes a different view altogether.
“Before we go to expand the laws, we ought to make sure that we are enforcing the laws,” Harris said in an interview.
Background checks have not worked as intended, Harris said, and states that have more stringent gun control laws, such as Connecticut, have not been immune from shootings.
“The most important issue is making sure people who have mental health problems have the ability to get care,” said Harris, a doctor and gun owner.
Harris recently brought his views on gun control and the Second Amendment to a well-attended town hall in Ocean City.
“The majority of people in the 1st Congressional District are very skeptical of increasing gun control as a solution to the problem,” he said.
Harris’ views on gun controls are partly informed by the experience of his Hungarian and Ukrainian-born parents, who “escaped” from countries where guns were banned.
“I understand from one extreme what gun control can lead to,” Harris said.
Some in Maryland’s delegation are strong supporters of gun control legislation but don’t anticipate being asked to play a major role in upcoming legislatives battles.
“It’s something I want to be supportive of and contribute to, recognizing there are other people who’ve been working on this issue a lot longer than I have and I defer to their leadership on the issue,” said Rep. John Delaney, D-Potomac, in an interview. “But it doesn’t feel like an area where they need me to step forward and actually do specific things on it.”
A banker by trade, Delaney was recently appointed to the Joint Economic Committee and serves on the House Committee on Financial Services.
Rep. Chris Van Hollen, D-Kensington, is also known more for his financial acumen, though he has waded into gun control efforts. He was the only member of Congress to speak at the March on Washington for Gun Control in late January.
“We are gathered here….to say to the United States Congress that the price of inaction is too high. That the death toll across America is unacceptable,” Van Hollen said.
His guest at the State of the Union was Carole Price, who became a gun safety advocate after her 13-year-old son was accidentally shot and killed by a young neighbor in 1998.
House Minority Whip Steny Hoyer, D-Mechanicsville, brought Patricia Bell and Sabrina Worthington, the mother and sister of a Maryland State Trooper who was fatally shot in 2010.
“Gun violence continues to plague communities here in Maryland and across the country, putting our brave law enforcement officers at risk every day,” Hoyer said in a statement at the time.
Hoyer and Rep. Donna Edwards, D-Fort Washington, represent Prince George’s County, which has been hard hit by gun violence.
Edwards, who was unable to be reached for comment, spoke about gun control on the House floor Wednesday, though she has not released a statement about the issue since mid-December.
State level gun control efforts are moving swiftly in Maryland. The state Senate on Thursday approved Gov. Martin O’Malley’s gun control bill, which would ban many assault rifles, lower ammunition magazine capacity and require fingerprinting for people who purchase handguns.