A record number of Maryland residents purchased firearms before the state’s gun reform law, one of the most prohibitive in the nation, took effect Oct. 1.

So far in 2013, according to Sgt. Marc Black of the Maryland State Police Pikesville Barracks, 117,943 applications for firearms have been received, 63,567 applications have been processed and there is a current backlog of 54,037 applications.

In the first nine months of 2013, Maryland gun dealers sold more firearms than in 2011 and 2012 combined.

“There are people who are purchasing who probably never even thought about it, but their fear is that it’s now or never,” said Dr. Tyrone Powers, director of the Homeland Security and Criminal Justice Institute at Anne Arundel Community College. “They feel that these new gun laws are so draconian that if they didn’t apply now, then their choice is completely taken away from them.”

In general, the new law bans the sale of certain semi-automatic firearms and requires handgun purchasers to be fingerprinted and pass a training class in order to obtain a handgun license. The training classes are conducted by certified gun organizations sanctioned by the state police.

Information on the racial breakdown of gun purchasers was not available. According to Black, the state police do not publish detailed information about gun purchasers.

However, there is some consensus about the torrent of gun purchasers.

“There’s no doubt the vast majority are White. But, there is a significant increase in the purchase of weapons by African Americans and Hispanics,” Powers said.

Several Baltimore area gun dealers who were contacted by the AFRO refused to comment on the record about firearm sales. But they did convey tremendous frustration with the gun law, despite the record spike in gun sales prior to its implementation.

Several prosecutors, on the other hand, praised the law for its potential to keep guns away from people who may use them to harm. Prince George’s County State’s Attorney Angela B. Alsobrooks testified in favor of the bill when it came up for consideration in Annapolis early this year. Alsobrooks “also was supportive of the background check, firearms training,” etc., required by the measure.

“The biggest thing that she was interested in was the aspect about keeping guns out of the hands, not only of criminals, but of the mentally ill to keep them from hurting themselves or anyone else,” Erzine said.

The new law requires potential purchasers to jump through several hoops, opponents of the law said. Finding a gun training class can be challenging for city residents because the vast majority of training facilities are located outside of Baltimore. Applying by completing the state-mandated application for a gun license does not guarantee that one will be granted, officials said. It also requires a background check to be conducted by the gun dealer and approved by the Maryland State Police.

Some law enforcement officials are frustrated by the law’s requirements.

“It’s a tremendous headache. Law enforcement is severely understaffed,” Powers said. “It’s going to be a tremendous burden on them.”

Some of Powers’ concerns are echoed by a spokesperson for an organization that is suing the state over the new gun law.

“This entire burden falls upon the private sector. They (the state) are not providing training. They are not providing ranges, even though there are a number of police ranges around the state that are funded by taxpayers,” said John Josselyn, legislative vice president for Associated Gun Clubs of Baltimore.

Josselyn’s group is one of the plaintiffs in a lawsuit that argues the state’s new law infringes on their Second Amendment right to bear arms.

“Each purchase constitutes a vote on the issue. Each purchase probably costs that person in access of $500. By my estimates, something in the order of $58 million was invested in firearms in Maryland this year alone,” said Josselyn.
He said people of color and the poor are adversely impacted by the law.

“They generally live in higher crime areas. They have a greater need for self defense, but they have less access to it,” Josselyn said.

Brett Smith, owner of Southern Maryland Pawn Brokers, a licensed gun dealer near the border of Prince George’s and Charles counties, said his customers are almost evenly divided between Black and White. He said he saw a tremendous boost in sales prior to the new law going into effect.

“Gun sales quadrupled,” said Smith, who is a former D.C. police officer. “One out of three customers who bought a gun, their reason for buying a gun was because, `I won’t be able to.’ They never planned on buying a gun until they were told they won’t be allowed to or it’s going to be harder.”


Sean Yoes

AFRO Baltimore Editor