Gun bill receives preliminary approval in the Senate

March 9, 2023

Maryland Matters

Senate Judicial Proceedings Vice Chair Jeff Waldstreicher (D-Montgomery) speaks on the Senate floor March 9. Photo by Bryan P. Sears.

Maryland’s Senate gave preliminary approval Thursday to a bill that would prohibit a person from knowingly carrying a firearm at more public places or onto someone else’s property without the property owner’s express permission.

The bill was amended to remove a proposed prohibition on carrying a firearm within 100 feet of a wide-range of public spaces.

After a committee hearing last month, Sen. Jeff Waldstreicher (D-Montgomery) — who is lead sponsor of Senate Bill 1 and vice chair of the Judicial Proceedings Committee, which moved the bill to the Senate floor — said he realized “the bill was drafted way too broadly [and] could accidentally jam people up who are law abiding, responsible citizens and may be difficult to defend constitutionally.”

The bill is being considered after the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in June that New York’s concealed carry permit law violated the 14th Amendment of the Constitution. The court’s decision in New York State Police & Rifle Association vs. Bruen concluded that residents did not need a “good and substantial” reason to carry a concealed firearm.

Maryland also had required special permission to carry a concealed gun, but the state lifted restrictions in July to comply with the court’s ruling. However, then-Gov. Larry Hogan (R) said persons carrying a concealed gun would still be required to obtain a permit.

Currently in Maryland, a person cannot carry a firearm at many places that are public and where there are vulnerabilities or people at risk, including legislative buildings, state parks, school property or within 1,000 feet of a demonstration in a public place.

Waldstreicher’s amended version of his bill, labeled the Gun Safety Act of 2023, specifies that guns would be prohibited in areas where children and vulnerable individuals congregate, at government and public infrastructure sites and certain special purpose areas such as a stadium or theater. It also decreases the distance a person carrying a gun must keep from public demonstrations to 300 feet.

Any person found to have knowingly carried a gun at these places would be guilty of a misdemeanor and face up to 90 days in jail, a fine up to $3,000, or both.

If found guilty of a second or subsequent offense a person could face 15 months imprisonment, a fine up to $7,500, or both. Those are the same penalties that a person would face if found guilty of carrying the firearm with the intent to “cause death or injury to another.”

Besides law enforcement personnel, the bill also would allow some other individuals to carry a firearm, including retired law enforcement officers in good standing, members of the military and members of Reserve Officer Training Corps (ROTC). 

A few amendments 

Before The Senate gave SB1 preliminary approval, it heard 14 amendments on the floor. A few were technical such as one offered by Sen. Cheryl Kagan (D-Montgomery) to add about two dozen co-sponsors to the bill.

Waldstreicher also added that a person cannot a carry or transport a handgun at a building “currently” used as a polling place.

Although Democrats outnumber Republicans 2-to-1, Sen. William Folden (R-Frederick), a Frederick police officer, had two “friendly” amendments passed.

Folden, a Frederick police officer, said the first amendment would clarify that guns may be carried at firearm sporting events such a skeet shooting competition. The second amendment would ensure that a person would not be charged if a firearm accidentally gets exposed “not as a show of force, but as an inadvertent act.”

Meanwhile, an amended bill sponsored by Del. Luke Clippinger (D-Baltimore City), chair of the House Judiciary Committee, received a 15-7 vote in that committee Wednesday.

As filed, the bill would expand disqualifications for possessing a regulated firearm and increase requirements for issuance of a handgun permit.

The House bill would also double three fees: a wear-and-carry permit from $75 to $150; a renewal or subsequent application from $50 to $100; and a duplicate or modified permit from $10 to $20.

Estimated state revenues may increase from $8.7 million in fiscal year 2024 to $14.1 million by fiscal year 2028, according to the fiscal note.

Power to prosecute police misconduct could move to AG’s office   

The Senate also voted 27-20 Thursday to allow the Maryland Attorney General’s Independent Investigations Division prosecutorial power. The measure now moves to the House of Delegates.

Sponsored by Sen. William C. Smith Jr. (D-Montgomery), the legislation would repeal a requirement that the investigations division report findings in police-involved deaths to the local state’s attorneys, who would decide whether to prosecute. It would give the division exclusive rights to prosecute, unless the attorney general requests that the state’s attorney does so.

The bill would also require the division to investigate police-involved death or injuries to any individual.