TOWSON — Rep. Chris Van Hollen, D-Kensington, said Wednesday that Maryland’s handgun licensing law must be expanded nationwide to reduce gun homicides.
“We can pass laws that will reduce gun deaths here in Maryland. But we can reduce them even more in Maryland and around the country if other states follow suit,” Van Hollen said at a press conference at the Baltimore County Courthouse.
He and other Maryland officials spoke on the eve of the second anniversary of a sweeping Maryland gun control law that outlawed assault weapons, limited ammunition magazines to 10 rounds and tightened handgun licensing requirements. The law was passed in response to the December 2012 mass shootings at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn., that killed 26 people.
Van Hollen has proposed a federal bill that would encourage states to require handgun buyers to have permits. So far, the bill has seen no action in the House.
Van Hollen added that his legislation would authorize funding and resources for other states to adopt gun safety laws similar to those in Maryland.
The congressman said that two recent studies by the Center for Gun Policy and Research at Johns Hopkins University’s Bloomberg School of Public Health in Baltimore found a connection between licensing laws and firearms-related deaths.
Data from Connecticut and Missouri were used in these studies.
Gun-related homicide rates in Connecticut dropped by 40 percent during the first 10 years after the handgun licensing law was implemented in 1995, according to one Hopkins study published in the American Journal of Public Health.
Dr. Daniel Webster, director of the Hopkins center who co-authored the study, said that Connecticut laws requiring background checks and a permit to buy a gun were very effective in preventing illegal gun use.
“There are roughly two firearm suicides for every firearm homicide across the board in the United States,” he said.*
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Webster said that there was a two-fold increase in the diversion of guns into illegal use and a 25 percent increase in gun-related murders over the three years after a permit law was repealed in Missouri, a fact underscored in the Hopkins study.
“We saw no change whatsoever in homicides committed by other means associated with that law,” Webster said, talking about another study he co-authored and published in the Journal of Urban Health: Bulletin of the New York Academy of Medicine.
Webster said that the single largest contributor of illegal handguns to Maryland was Virginia. Van Hollen added that Pennsylvania and West Virginia were also contributing.
Maryland Attorney General Brian Frosh said that he would send the results of the studies to attorneys general across the country to encourage them to pass what he called “‘common sense” legislation like Maryland’s.
This step to encourage other states to implement gun laws identical to Maryland comes weeks after former Maryland Gov. Martin O’Malley called for cutting the deaths due to gun-violence in half over the next decade.
O’Malley said that the national age requirement for all handgun purchases and possession should be increased from 18 to 21.
A candidate for the 2016 Democratic presidential nomination, O’Malley said that a national arms registry should be set up to track guns associated with violence and death. He discussed a comprehensive strategy with gun control advocates and people affected by gun violence at a roundtable in New York earlier this month.
Opponents of the legislation argued that past handgun safety laws have proven ineffective.
John Josselyn, legislative vice president of the Associated Gun Clubs of Baltimore, said that Van Hollen’s legislation would not fix the problem of firearms violence.
Van Hollen and gun control advocates noted the role poverty plays in handgun violence, Josselyn said. “It’s the breakdown of the American families. That’s where the crime comes from. It isn’t the firearms,” he said, talking to reporters after the press conference.
Josselyn questioned the findings from the Bloomberg study because “Michael Bloomberg (the former New York City mayor and philanthropist who donated funds to set up the institute) is a one-man campaign to ban guns.”
“You really think they are going to say anything but what he wants them to say?” Josselyn asked.
* The story originally incorrectly quoted Webster saying “There are roughly two firearm suicides for every four firearm homicides across the board in the United States.” We regret the error.