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Politicians rally in support of gun control measures

10.01.2014

Howard politicians joined gun control advocacy group Marylanders to Prevent Gun Violence for a rally at the Columbia lakefront Wednesday to mark the one-year anniversary since the the Firearms Safety Act was implemented.

The act made Maryland one of only six states to require gun purchasers to be fingerprinted by state police.

The law also banned 45 types of assault weapons, required handgun buyers to complete safety training and obtain a license from state police, banned the sale of gun magazines with more than 10 bullets and gave police more authority to stop rogue gun dealers.

"This new law in Maryland is going to save lives. It is critical for the public safety of Marylanders that the people who get elected this November be fully committed to the Firearms Safety Act of 2013," Vincent DeMarco, president of Marylanders to Prevent Gun Violence, said at the event, which was attended by County Executive and candidate for lieutenant governor Ken Ulman, County Council member and executive candidate Courtney Watson and Sen. Brian Frosh, who is running for attorney general, among others.

DeMarco and other gun control advocates say the commitment of the state's leaders to enforce the act will determine whether the new restrictions have teeth in years to come. DeMarco pointed to a 15 percent decrease in the number of gun deaths in the state between the first eight months of 2013 and the first eight months of 2014 -- a statistic that includes suicides and accidental gun deaths as well as murders -- as evidence that new regulations on guns are working. 

The discussion about gun control has particular resonance in Howard County, where three people died in a double murder-suicide in January at the Mall in Columbia.

Ulman said no event during his eight years as county executive had affected him more profoundly. 

"Two people lost their lives and that is incredibly tragic," he said of the mall shooting. "But it could have been a lot worse if Maryland hadn't stepped forward" to ban assault weapons and limit bullet sales. 

Debate over gun laws has become a hot topic in the Howard County executive race this campaign season, as well. 

Recent mailers sent to voters by a slate of county Democrats, as well as a TV ad from Watson's campaign, have criticized Sen. Allan Kittleman, the Republican candidate for county executive, for his stance on gun issues. 

The mailers caused a stir when a Kittleman quote they cited from a Washington Examiner article turned out to have been exaggerated by Examiner editors, according to the reporter who wrote the story. 

Despite the controversy, Watson has maintained that "it is important to the voters of Howard County to know where candidates stand on important issues." 

At the rally, she said gun control was a concern for the Howard County voters she's talked to. 

"People... are tired of opposition" to gun restrictions, she said. "They want to see results."  

On Monday, Watson released a public safety platform that focuses on investing in emergency response technology, improving relations between police and the community and providing specialized training, including mental health training, to officers and citizens. While she didn't offer any gun-specific resolutions, she noted her support of a 2013 gun buy-back program and free trigger lock giveaway.

In introducing Watson, DeMarco called upon Kittleman, who voted against the Firearms Safety Act and debated Frosh, one of the bill's co-sponsors, on the Senate floor, to "renounce that position and support the law now that it's working."

Wednesday, Kittleman said he didn't support the 2013 act because he felt the requirement for handgun purchasers to pay for a license was "discriminatory to lower income individuals."

"The issue is owning a firearm is a constitutional right," he said. "Making licensing so restrictive [means you're saying] it’s O.K. for a rich person to own a gun but it’s not O.K. for a poor person to own a gun."

However, he added, "it's completely disingenuous to say I don’t support common-sense gun laws." Kittleman said he approved of universal background checks for gun buyers, a seven-day waiting period in order to get a handgun and restricting Marylanders to one gun purchase every 30 days. 

On Monday, Kittleman released a platform of his own, focused on developing "the most comprehensive needs assessment on mental health ever conducted in any jurisdiction in Maryland." 

Wednesday, he said the biggest gun control issue, in his view, "is access to guns for those who are lawbreakers and those who have mental health issues." 

A post on Watson's website, meanwhile, points out that Kittleman voted against establishing a task force examining gun laws in relation to individuals with mental illness in 2012. 

Kittleman said he voted against the task force because he was concerned its scope would have extended past issues of mental illness. 

"It was not my desire to not look into mental health issues," he said.