Chris Van Hollen, a Representative from Maryland has proposed that the Federal Government adopt Maryland’s recently passed laws on handguns. That would entail requiring Licenses for purchase of handguns, fingerprinting, and passing a background check and handgun registration with the state police. For the most part this proposal is decent as it does not target specific firearms, and tries to actually reduce the illegal use of handguns. However, many of these measures will only inconvenience law abiding citizens and may have little to no effect on the national crime rate.
Being from Maryland, and being a firearm owner, I am very familiar with Maryland’s “Assault Weapon Ban of 2013”. Along with pointlessly banning firearm models that are rarely used in crime, the law instituted a strict process for purchasing handguns. First a potential buyer is required to take a HQL (Handgun Qualification Course) in order to receive a license to purchase a handgun. Once they pass the HQL course they are fingerprinted. Next, when they actually want to purchase the handgun they must pass a background check. Some people see a responsible set of policies that are—as Jenifer Pauliukonis called them–“Common sense” measures to prevent gun violence. While I am happy that the legislation is going after handguns, which account for the overwhelming majority of firearm crimes, I do not like how it targets law abiding citizens the way it does. Why should a person legally purchasing a handgun have their fingerprint put in the system like a common criminal? The handgun will already be registered in their name. So why are their fingerprints needed? It just seems like law abiding citizens are being treated as if their decision to buy a firearm makes them more likely to be a criminal. These so called “Common-sense” laws are supposedly responsible for a “40% drop in homicides over 10 years” in Connecticut where a similar handgun licensing law was passed. These findings were cited from a Johns Hopkins university study on gun policy. The Director of the Center for Gun Policy and Research, Daniel Webster, has publicly stated that “Most guns used in violent crimes come from the streets” or in other words they are illegally purchased and owned firearms.
So why make it harder for people to purchase legally? There is no good reason for law abiding citizens to be fingerprinted and put in the criminal data base. That is offensive and serves no purpose but to victimize law abiding purchasers. The good things that the bill can offer is the required HQL course. Similarly to getting a driver’s license, you need an HQL to purchase a handgun in Maryland. Like getting a driver’s license you need to pass a safety course. Promoting safety is always a good thing, and I am all for it. What I do not like about the proposed bill is that it does nothing to prevent Straw purchases–where someone buys a firearm for another person who legally cannot possess one—or the “Street” guns that Mr. Webster cited as being used most often in violent crime. Clear and defined punishments for those who operate outside of the law would be more effective than targeting legal purchases which are less often used in crime. Who is going to use a gun registered in their name to commit a crime? Especially when a fired shell and casing is kept by the state police–at least in Maryland–in order to identify the weapon if used in a crime.
Though I heavily urge the practice of promoting firearm safety, I oppose any attempt to use the licensing feature of this law to limit the right of citizens to purchase firearms. The class should be required, but easily passable. Fingerprinting of law abiding citizens should not happen, and registration should be done with no inconvenience to the purchaser. Background checks did little to stop the recent shooter of two reporters on live television, but if it stops at least one unfit person from getting a firearm and causing harm to themselves or others it is worth it.