Bill aims to make stricter storage laws for firearms

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The dome of Maryland’s State House rises above buildings in Annapolis, Maryland, on Nov. 5, 2019. (Capital News Service photo by Elliott Davis.)

By Fatemeh Paryavi
Capital News Service

ANNAPOLIS — A bill in the Maryland General Assembly changes the language of existing law in prohibiting an individual from storing a firearm—loaded or unloaded—in a location where an unsupervised minor “could” gain access to it.

Current law only accounts for loaded guns, saying they must be stored “in a location where the person knew or should have known that an unsupervised child would gain access to the firearm,” according to a legislative analysis. The new language would also add unsupervised minors to the law.

The proposal comes as a result of accidents where minors have gained access to a family member’s, friend’s or parent’s firearms and either accidentally shot themselves or others, committed suicide or committed a school shooting, the legislation’s lead sponsor, Del. Dana Stein (D-Baltimore County) said at the bill’s hearing on Feb. 19.

“We have amendments to ensure youth can participate in all the hunting and shooting activities they can under law now,” Stein said.

A co-sponsor of the bill, House Bill 636, Del. Lesley Lopez (D-Montgomery County, told Capital News Service on Feb. 19 that she was a survivor of a school shooting and that “firearm bills are important to me in that regard.”

She said that though the bill had failed to advance last year, with new leaders in the state House and Senate, the legislation is expected to have a better chance this time around.

At the bill hearing, Del. Robin Grammer Jr. (R-Baltimore County) raised the question of what is reasonable storage of a gun.

Stein responded that all law is generally subjective and pointed out that current law may be subjective as well.

The identical Senate bill had a hearing on Feb. 20 with the lead sponsor being Sen. William Smith Jr. (D-Montgomery County).

“Changing the ‘would’ to ‘could’ is a radical change because it would literally require prescience for (an) owner to know what a child, any child, under the age of 18 ‘could’ do,” Mark Pennak, the president of Maryland Shall Issue, a gun-rights group, said in written testimony in opposition to both the Senate and House bills.

Those in favor of the legislation cited a lesser risk in having access to guns and striving to eliminate youth suicides, accidental killings and school shootings.

“Household guns contribute overwhelmingly to youth suicides and unintentional shootings among children,” Baltimore County Executive John Olszewski Jr. wrote in testimony in support of the bill.

Stein told Capital News Service that there are many ways of keeping a firearm away from a minor, including but not limited to purchasing a gun safety lock.

Melissa Willey, whose daughter, Jaelynn Willey, died in a 2018 shooting at Great Mills High School in Lexington Park, Maryland, testified in support of the bill.

Willey’s daughter was shot by another student who used his father’s gun.

“Safe storage can prevent these horrible events. I am requesting this law be passed in memory of Jaelynn and for Jaelynn. In hope that this never happens to another person again,” Willey said.

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