What I’ve Done in Maryland

I am a passionate critic of our uncivilized gun laws and the obscene gun violence engulfing America. I worked closely in Annapolis with my Senate colleague and now Attorney General Brian Frosh to face down the NRA in the wake of the Newtown massacre.  With our colleagues in the House, Senator Frosh and I wrote and steered to passage in 2013 one of the toughest comprehensive gun safety laws in the nation.

Maryland’s law requires that all guns be processed through licensed dealers who must conduct a thorough background check on buyers.  This requirement closes the gun-show loophole.  The law also imposes stringent licensing requirements for all handgun purchasers, requiring applicants to take a training course within three years of applying and to provide fingerprints along with their application.  The fingerprint requirement is a huge breakthrough because it deters straw purchasers, dramatically reducing fraud in the traffic in firearms.  The law also bans military-style assault weapons, which are used neither for hunting nor self-defense but for massacring human beings, and it limits magazines to 10 rounds of ammunition.  Finally, it gives the State Police authority to inspect state gun dealers and requires gun owners to report all stolen and lost guns to local law enforcement within 72 hours or face misdemeanor criminal prosecution. 

The Maryland law has become a model for states serious about reducing gun violence.  At least one mass shooter in Maryland purchased a shotgun just two months after the law barring purchase of assault weapons went into effect; he then used the gun to shoot up a shopping mall.  He killed two innocent people and then himself, but it could have been ten times that number had he been able to buy an assault weapon.  This is what passes for progress in the grim arithmetic of American gun violence.

In 2015, I introduced a bill with State Delegates Kathleen Dumais and Sandy Rosenberg to protect women from domestic abusers with guns by imposing a mandatory process for convicted abusers to relinquish their firearms upon conviction.  Since it did not pass, dangerous people convicted of domestic abuse are still able to leave the courthouse or jail and go home to their guns, even though they are legally prohibited from possessing them.  I am committed to closing this gap in the law to protect the safety of vulnerable women and families across Maryland.  When a domestic abuser has a gun, a female victim's risk of death rises by 500 percent.  Guns caused 74 percent of Maryland domestic violence homicides from July 2013 to June 2014.

What I Will Do in Congress

We need to bring the essential features of the common-sense Maryland law into being at the federal level.

Pass Universal Background Checks

In Congress, I will be a relentless advocate for universal background checks, which are a necessity to prevent gun-runners, murderers, and other criminals from obtaining firearms through private sales on-line or with unlicensed dealers at gun shows; today, the largest source of guns is private sales.  We also need a Maryland-style fingerprinting system to eliminate the possibility of straw purchasers acquiring firearms for criminals.  We should also close the so-called "Charleston loophole," which allows a gun sale to proceed without a completed background check if the check has not been finished within three days.  This loophole permitted racist Dylann Roof to purchase a gun before he executed nine people point-blank in a Charleston church even though he had a criminal record. 

Ban Assault Weapons and High-Capacity Magazines

Congress needs to pass Maryland-style legislation banning assault weapons and high-capacity magazines.[1]  While assault weapons and high-capacity magazines are not the most frequently used kinds of weapons in mass-shootings, when they are used, they end up causing significantly more casualties and carnage, an average of 8.3 deaths as opposed to an average of 5.4 deaths.[2]  Moreover, as the Center for American Progress reports, assault weapons make up a significant and growing portion of guns used to commit crimes, especially in suburban and rural communities.[3]  Assault weapons have no legitimate use in the hands of ordinary citizens.  If we can ban assault weapons and high-capacity magazines in Maryland, we can ban them across the country.  There is no more of a Second Amendment right to own an assault weapon than a machine gun or a rocket launcher.        

Bar Dangerous People from Purchasing or Possessing Firearms

In Congress, I would work to expand the categories of people barred from purchasing and possessing firearms.  In the State Senate, I proposed prohibiting people convicted of misdemeanor domestic violence crimes from possessing guns, and I would do the same in Washington.  Federal law should also prohibit people convicted of abuse in any relationship or of stalking from possessing guns.[4]  I also propose that Congress extend federal gun prohibitions to cover partners who have violated permanent or temporary court-ordered domestic violence restraining orders. 

Let’s Hold the Gun Industry Accountable for Violence

I will join the fight to repeal the Protection of Lawful Commerce in Arms Act, the law which shields firearm manufacturers and dealers from liability for crimes committed with their products.  Gun manufacturers should be held accountable for negligence when it is reasonably foreseeable that guns they sell will be used to commit crimes.  I will also advocate for increasing funding for inspections of gun stores to crack down on dealers that knowingly provide products to straw purchasers and traffickers.  We need to empower and invigorate the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms to make it a watchdog instead of a lapdog.

A Matter of Political Coalition-Building

The critical problem is not a shortage of robust legislative proposals in Congress to stop gun violence.  There are at least 98 active gun-related bills in the Senate and the House of Representatives today.  The problem is that the bills are not getting passed.  I have a record of assembling consensus, building coalitions, and working across the aisle to pass critical pieces of legislation in Annapolis, specifically criminal justice reform, budget transparency, medical marijuana, and legislation to protect the victims of domestic and child abuse.

A recent public opinion poll found that 85 percent of gun owners supported background checks and 63 percent of respondents supported banning assault-weapons. The NRA, which used to have a moderate, common-sense agenda, has been captured and derailed by partisan combatants and the firearms industry. I will challenge responsible gun owners and hunters to stand up for the public interest and to join us in taking on the big money operatives at the NRA.  I have a proven record of effective progressive leadership against all the odds to turn the tide in major public controversies like this one.  I have worked with colleagues to pass major legislation to resolve the toughest and seemingly most intractable issues in Maryland such as marriage equality, the death penalty, and the National Popular Vote. I’ll take this experience building legislative coalitions to Congress and I will never back down from the gun lobby. We will create the popular and political pressure to overtake the NRA and convince our colleagues on both sides of the aisle to support bipartisan and common-sense reforms totally consistent with the Second Amendment. Together we can make it happen. We cannot wait any longer.  

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