As if it weren't enough for the Washington Post to cheerlead for Maryland's new stringent gun control law in the editorial pages and in biased news accounts, staff writers Aaron Davis and Paul Schwartzman today rewarded liberal governor and potential 2016 presidential contender Martin O'Malley with a 62-paragraph front-page victory lap headlined "Behind Md.'s tough gun law, a personal push."
"Md. governor driven by one fear: Could Newtown happen here?" insisted the headline on the the jump page. Left virtually unexamined, of course, would be how O'Malley's push for stringent gun control would help him campaign among liberal base voters in the 2016 primaries. No, Davis and Schwartzman painted O'Malley as driven by a purely altruistic desire to spare Maryland parents the pain of burying their children thanks to a mad gunman's rage:
On the day after a gunman killed 20 children in Newtown, Conn., Maryland Gov. Martin O’Malley wrote a text message to his chief legislative lobbyist.
“Do we or do we not have an assault-weapons ban?” the governor asked that Saturday, 10 days before Christmas.
No, Stacy Mayer wrote back.
Really? the governor responded. I thought we did.
A variety of pistols, such as mini-Uzis , were illegal. But the weapon that Adam Lanza had fired in Newtown — the semiautomatic Bushmaster rifle?
Legal in Maryland.
Three days later, O’Malley summoned Mayer and several advisers to the governor’s mansion. Until then, his team had mostly been recovering from the exhaustion of campaigning for three statewide referendums and President Obama’s reelection. They had no grand plan to take on guns as the state legislature was about to convene in Annapolis.
Now they would go after assault weapons. They would seek limits on how many bullets a gun could hold. They would regulate access to firearms for the mentally ill.
But a key piece of their agenda, as itemized in a memo that the advisers gave O’Malley, was something no state had attempted to enact in nearly two decades, and never south of the Mason-Dixon line: a new way of licensing firearms that would require fingerprinting, more-rigorous background checks and safety training.
The governor drew a star next to the licensing provision as he read the memo. He knew what he wanted.
But could he get it?
O’Malley had watched Connecticut Gov. Dan Malloy (D) face tough questioning and realized that he could easily find himself in the same predicament.
In messages to his advisers, O’Malley kept driving at the same point: Could Newtown happen in Maryland?
Taking on gun control presented political risks, not the least of which was that his opponents could portray him as an opportunist, using a national tragedy to generate headlines. A greater risk was the possibility of failure.
On Jan. 14, a month to the day after the Newtown shootings, the governor stood at a microphone at Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore, the city where many of the more than 2,700 homicides had occurred in the state since he became governor — most of them with handguns. “There is a sickness in this country, and that sickness is gun violence,” he said.
O’Malley had been preoccupied with gun violence since his days as a Baltimore assistant state’s attorney. As the city’s mayor and as governor, he had insisted on starting each morning with a police memo listing the number of overnight homicides. Now he had national stature, a Democrat frequently mentioned as a potential contender in the 2016 presidential sweepstakes.
As Davis and Schwartzman's feature unfolds, O'Malley is cast as the hero who overcomes opposition from supposedly conservative Democrats in his party's leadership in the state legislature, particularly the decades-long presiding officer of the State Senate:
In the Senate, President Thomas V. Mike Miller Jr. (D-Calvert) was sympathetic to his constituents who enjoyed hunting and target practice. Guns were an important part of their lives and culture. His district was home to Beretta, the gun manufacturer he had helped lure to Prince George’s County.
For Miller, guns were personal. At his Calvert County estate, he had a large collection of historic pistols and rifles dating to the Civil War, several of which he displayed in an antique baby crib near the front door.
He was a veteran of Maryland’s legislative wars, an imposing, white-haired presence in the chamber he had ruled since 1987. Perhaps more than anyone in the assembly, Miller knew how to get what he wanted.
On the day after O’Malley’s announcement, Miller told reporters that he was unhappy with aspects of the governor’s bill. The fingerprinting requirement, Miller said, would have “a difficult time on the floor of the Senate.”
“Licensing begins to trample on Second Amendment rights,” he said.
O’Malley’s key ally in the Senate was Sen. Brian E. Frosh (D-Montgomery), a bookish, bespectacled lawyer who represents Bethesda and Chevy Chase. Frosh had been lobbying for gun control since his first campaign in the 1980s, when he handed out “Ban Snubbies” fliers aimed at the short revolvers that were then legal. Now Frosh was chairman of the Judicial Proceedings Committee, the Senate panel through which O’Malley’s bill had to pass.
On Feb. 6, the day Frosh scheduled his committee’s hearing, thousands of citizens descended on Annapolis, amassing into one of the largest crowds in recent memory.
“GUNS = FREEDOM” read a banner outside the State House, where protesters assembled, many of them wearing National Rifle Association hats and carrying signs such as, “Why do you want to fingerprint me? I am not a criminal.”
Frosh, however, was more focused on his committee than on the crowd. He knew he had five votes, but he needed a sixth. He courted Sen. C. Anthony Muse (D-Prince George’s), who committed his support when the governor agreed to cut the price of a license in half, to $50, a change Muse sought to help the blue-
collar families in his district.
But Miller was still unpersuaded.
A week later, as the bill was being debated on the Senate floor, Frosh stood up and addressed Miller’s main concern, the fingerprinting requirement.
“Listen to the people who have to be fingerprinted,” Frosh said, reading to the senators a page-long list that included substitute teachers, social workers, jockeys, locksmiths, fortunetellers.
From his perch, Miller was moved by what he heard.
Even soothsayers, he would say at the end of the debate. He still didn’t like fingerprinting, but it was becoming a harder point to argue.
Then he thought about his 14 grandchildren.
“Do I want to let guns proliferate in my grandchildren’s world?” he would say later. “Absolutely not. Except for legitimate hunters, I’d like it to be a gun-free environment.”
Miller had turned.
So Miller has an antique gun collection, which, we may safely assume, he doesn't take to target practice or use for home defense. That doesn't, however, make him a longtime champion of gun rights or a conservative Democrat.
What's more, the fingerprinting requirements for varying occupations makes sense in most cases, like locksmiths and substitute teachers -- you don't want either of them to have criminal records -- while nonsensical for others such as jockeys and fortunetellers. A wise, principled legislator may take away that maybe the state needs to reform its economic regulation laws by repealing nonsensical and onerous licensing requirements for certain occupations.
At any rate, no one has a right to be hired to be a substitute teacher, whereas Americans, including Marylanders, have constitutional rights under the Second Amendment to keep and bear arms.
To require fingerprinting and a 10-year, $50 license just to buy a handgun seems rather onerous to the rights of Marylanders, particularly poor and elderly Marylanders, to defend themselves. While it's a hassle for a 34-year-old Marylander who lives in the suburbs and has the time and money -- like yours truly -- to go through all those additional hoops, it would be near impossible for an 84-year-old woman with a fixed income to do so.
I use the granny example because it makes little sense to expect that a frail, elderly woman should be considered able to capably defend herself with a shotgun or hunting rifle, given how much heavier and how much stronger recoil they have than handguns. Those weapons, unlike handguns, will not face the stringent licensing requirements. Because the requirement is not applied to all firearms, liberal legislators insist they are in no way depriving Marylanders of the right to self defense. This may be true in abstract theory, but in practice it is not.
Of course, Davis and Schwartzman are not out to consider that the new legislation can create unintended consequences that include a fresh set of victims, they're out to put a feather in a liberal governor's cap, to reward him for accomplishing a major victory for a pet issue of the Washington Post's.
Nope, the only thing that Davis and Schwartzman seem to be itching for is how future sessions of the Maryland General Assembly that can chip away further at gun rights, judging by the conclusion of their April 8 story (emphasis mine):
Four days later, Republicans rose on the House floor to mount one last stand. Licensing, fingerprinting, assault weapons — they challenged it all.
“Shame on you,” Del. Michael D. Smigiel Sr. (R-Cecil) told the Democrats.
Busch called for the vote, and soon it was over: 78 to 61.
“Well done,” the governor told Dumais in her office, where bottles of wine were waiting. “Not an easy thing.”
After O’Malley departed, Dumais sat at her desk, exhausted. In the future, she wondered, would there be more to do?
Perhaps there were other guns that needed to be included in the assault-weapons ban and others that should have fingerprinting requirements.
“Who knows?” the delegate said. “Maybe that will be next year’s bill.”