One of the several display cases with some of the handguns available for purchase at United Gun Shop in Rockville, Maryland, in April 2021. (Photo Credit: Jonathan Bennett)
BY JACOB STEINBERG
Capital News Service Annapolis Bureau
From 2019 to 2020, the number of approved applications for Maryland civilians licensed to buy or own a regulated firearm more than doubled, according to data obtained from a public records request.
In 2019, 47,093 total requests were approved for civilians in the state, while that number rose to 95,502 in 2020, marking a substantial increase.
“If you look at the numbers over time you can see how dramatic the rise has been with a big spike this last year,” Mark Pennak, president of Maryland Shall Issue told Capital News Service.
“It exceeds the population growth of Maryland substantially,” he added.
A regulated firearm is considered a handgun, but a lower receiver — the part of a rifle that is serialized — is also regulated.
To put in an application and affidavit to own or buy a regulated firearm, an individual must apply through the Maryland State Police’s Licensing Portal.
However, before applying through the Maryland State Police licensing portal, an individual must obtain a Handgun Qualification License.
To do that, they must first go through a fingerprint-based background check as well as satisfactorily complete a Firearms Safety Course that is taught by a certified instructor and spans at least four hours.
The course needs to be completed within three years prior to the application for the Handgun Qualification Course.
If the request is approved, the individual can then go about acquiring the firearm.
Based on the data from the Maryland State Police, the number of civilian applications approved increased in all 24 jurisdictions.
These civilian applications apply to the purchase of a handgun, as rifles and shotguns aren’t considered regulated firearms in Maryland.
Baltimore County saw the largest number of approved applications in 2020 with 13,048, while Prince George’s County and Anne Arundel County had the second and third largest number granted at 11,991 and 11,406 respectively.
When looking at the percentage change from 2019-2020, Prince George’s County saw the largest change with a 163.6 percent increase, while Charles County saw the second largest increase at 112.6 percent.
Each of Maryland’s 24 jurisdictions saw a greater than 50 percent increase when looking at the number of applications granted from 2019 to 2020.
Beyond personal safety, there are several factors that have contributed to this increase, including the election of new Democratic President Joe Biden as well as the increased number of protests in the last year surrounding police brutality.
“President Biden has come out with a very strong gun-control agenda, we used to joke that President Obama was the greatest gun salesman ever to exist, but I think now President Biden has taken the honors,” Pennak said.
“If anything, that has encouraged people to buy firearms because they’re concerned that these new restrictions will be imposed,” he added.
A study conducted by the National Shooting Sports Foundation from January to April 2020 found that retailers cited an increase in first-time gun buyers, estimating that 40 percent of their sales were to this group.
Additionally, the study found, that marked a 67 percent increase compared to years past, where about 24 percent of customers were first-time gun owners.
In 2020, nearly 23 million firearms were bought, an estimate that represented a 64 percent increase from the year prior, according to the Washington Post, which based its numbers on methodology from the Small Arms Survey.
Additionally, more than 2 million firearms were bought in January, according to the Washington Post, which gathered federal background-check data.
“The stereotypical demographic you’d expect has changed, age, gender, race it does not matter,” Jonathan Bennett, owner of United Gun Shop in Rockville, Maryland, told Capital News Service.
Bennett is a retired law enforcement officer of 15 years and teaches firearms training and safety courses.
In the last 12 to 14 months, he’s seen a 400 percent enrollment increase in these courses, with 75 percent of the class as first-time gun owners.
“There are a lot more people coming out openly as first-time gun buyers,” Bennett said.
However, Bennett explained that while some first-time gun owners attributed their purchases to civil unrest, many people are unable to articulate what they’re feeling.
This increase in approved applications and first-time gun owners doesn’t come as a surprise to gun control advocacy organizations like Marylanders to Prevent Gun Violence, but it has brought added concerns.
It’s also brought an added reminder to what they perceive as a false narrative from many gun rights advocates that guns in the homes make you feel safer, according to Liz Banach, executive director of Marylanders to Prevent Gun Violence.
One of the main concerns with increased gun ownership relates to mental health and the increased stress and anxiety level people are dealing with.
An American Psychological Association poll of 2,076 adults from Jan. 21 to Jan. 25 found that the pandemic was a significant source of stress for 80 percent of them.
“We’re looking at a very dangerous situation from a mental health standpoint, we’re also looking at potential spikes in gun violence numbers from domestic violence situations or urban violence situations,” Karen Herren, director of legislative affairs for Marylanders to Prevent Gun Violence, told Capital News Service.
As the country has opened up more in recent weeks with vaccination rates on the rise, mass shootings have also increased, including in Indianapolis, Atlanta, and Boulder, Colorado.
“The concerns run the gamut of all the things that we are trying to get a hold of in this world of guns that we’re living in, we’re really alarmed by those numbers,” Herren said.
Connecting to mental health, one of the main concerns for Marylanders to Prevent Gun Violence with an increase in gun ownership is the potential ramifications it could have on children.
Earlier this legislative session, the organization advocated for a bill called Jaelynn’s Law that would make it more difficult for unsupervised minors to access a firearm, but it didn’t pass.
“When we’re talking about an increase in gun purchases, we’re talking about an increase in access to those horrific possibilities,” Banach told Capital News Service.
“We’re talking about an increase in the likelihood of suicidality, an increase in the likelihood of domestic violence escalating to homicide, an increase of a child unintentionally getting a gun,” she added.