Maryland to require background checks of private sales of shotguns, rifles after overriding Hogan veto

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Pamela Wood, The Baltimore Sun
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Maryland will require background checks for all sales and transfers of rifles and shotguns, after lawmakers voted on Thursday to override Gov. Larry Hogan’s veto of the measure.

Previously all sales of handguns, and sales of long guns by licensed firearms dealers, were subject to background checks. Private sales and transfers of long guns were exempt from the checks, which gun control advocates considered to be a loophole.

Proponents of the new law say it will ensure that people who are prohibited from owning guns, such as those with protective orders against them or violent criminal histories, cannot get their hands on long guns by buying them in private transactions.

They’ll now need to go to a licensed dealer, who can charge up to $30 to complete an instant federal background check. The law will go into effect in 30 days.

Opponents argue that this creates a cumbersome requirement for otherwise law-abiding citizens who have a tradition of selling and trading guns among family and friends. They raised concerns that people would not know about the new law and unwittingly violate it — potentially leading to them losing their rights to own guns.

During 40 minutes of debate in the House of Delegates, Del. Vanessa Atterbeary, the bill’s sponsor, noted “common-sense, tailored exceptions” to the background check requirement, including transfers between close relatives, temporary loans and antique guns.

Atterbeary, a Howard County Democrat, argued that “law-abiding, responsible gun owners do not have any undue burdens” under the law.

Several Republicans countered that the background check requirement would, in fact, be a burden. Some invoked what they believe is a “war on rural Maryland.”

“Maryland rural residents are outnumbered and our traditions and ways of life are being criminalized,” said Del. Jeff Ghrist, an Eastern Shore Republican.

Others argued that it is rare for gun violence to be committed by someone with a long gun obtained through a private sale even though they were prohibited from owning a gun.

Hogan, a Republican, had vetoed the background check bill along with several other crime-fighting bills because they were not part of “a comprehensive crime package that included my proposals.”

The House voted 88-46 to overturn Hogan’s vetoes of both the House and Senate version of the bill that were passed last year. That comes after a 31-16 vote in the Senate on Wednesday to overturn the veto on the Senate version. One final procedural vote — on the House version of the bill in the Senate — is scheduled for Friday.

The veto override votes were celebrated by Moms Demand Action, a gun violence prevention group that had pushed for the law for multiple years.

“Because of the General Assembly’s action, Marylanders across the state, from our rural areas to our suburbs and cities, will be safer and we will reduce gun violence,” said Danielle Veith, the Moms Demand Action chapter president for Maryland.

The background check bill is among dozens of bills that Hogan vetoed following the 2020 session. Delegates and senators have spent much of this week taking override votes on the vetoes.

Other key bills that Hogan vetoed include a 10-year funding and implementation plan for an ambitious public school improvement program, as well as a first-in-the-nation tax on digital advertising that was coupled with an increase in tobacco and nicotine taxes.

The House overrode the veto of the education bill earlier in the week, and voted 88-48 on Thursday to override the veto of the advertising and tobacco taxes. Veto override votes on both measures are expected in the Senate on Friday.