Maryland, Virginia lawmakers to go different ways on guns

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Photo - A young girl with a rifle slung over her shoulder at a gun show in Chantilly, VA, Saturday, December 29th, 2012
A young girl with a rifle slung over her shoulder at a gun show in Chantilly, VA, Saturday, December 29th, 2012
Local,Maryland,Virginia,Steve Contorno,Gun Control,Firearms

Maryland and Virginia have vowed to tackle the issue of guns when their state legislatures convene this month in the wake a mass shooting at a Connecticut elementary school, but the neighboring states are taking drastically different approaches.

In Maryland, Democrats running the General Assembly have called for a crackdown on the kinds of powerful firearms and high-capacity magazines used last month by the Newtown, Conn., shooter to kill 20 children and six adults at Sandy Hook Elementary School.

Republicans who control Virginia's General Assembly, however, not only dismissed the need for new gun restrictions but expressed interest in arming teachers.

The divergent reactions to the second-deadliest shooting in U.S. history highlight the cultural differences between the two states. In Virginia, gun ownership is considered sacrosanct and hunting a treasured pastime. Virginia is so protective of Second Amendment rights that even some Democrats support a National Rifle Association proposal to place an armed police officer in every school.

To many Marylanders, Virginia sounds like the Wild West.

"That is the starkest differences between the two jurisdictions," said Sen. Brian Frosh, D-Bethesda. "I just can't believe Maryland would ever endorse policies that say we will turn our schools into armed camps."

Frosh and a handful of Democrats want Maryland to restrict ammunition clips to 10 rounds -- instead of the current 20-to-30-round clips now available -- and to ban assault weapons. A 1994 federal ban on such weapons expired in 2004, though President Obama called for its renewal.

Gun supporters say banning assault rifles would do little to reduce violence because most gun-related murders involve handguns. All but 10 of Maryland's 272 homicides in 2010 were committed with a gun, but only two involved a rifle, according to the FBI. Virginia had 208 gun-related homicides in 2011, including 10 committed with a rifle.

"We do have a violence problem in the United States, but it's by no means only a firearms problem," said Matt Daley of the Maryland State Rifle and Pistol Association. "If the data were otherwise, and 95 percent of the homicides involved assault rifles, I would come to a different analysis."

Gun sales in both states continue to rise. The day after the Sandy Hook massacre, Virginia gun dealers reported the highest daily sales in state history. In Maryland, the total number of applications filed by all would-be gun buyers jumped from 46,000 in 2011 to about 62,000 last year.

The fight in Virginia is likely to center on whether the state should further loosen gun laws. Republicans last year successfully ended the state's long-standing one-handgun-per-month limit, the only major restriction on gun ownership to pass the state legislature in decades.

Virginia Gov. Bob McDonnell and Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli, both Republicans, have said allowing teachers to carry concealed weapons in the classroom could prevent future school shootings.

Democrats and even some Republicans will push back against those measures, but lawmakers said it's unlikely the General Assembly will add any restrictions for gun buyers this year.

"As much as our constituents in Northern Virginia would approve of us passing assault weapons bans and limits on magazine capacities, those are impossible to pass in Virginia," said Del. Mark Sickles, D-Franconia. "But arming our school staff is a pretty ludicrous proposal."

scontorno@washingtonexaminer.com

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