Maryland has two separate databases for gun owners and criminals, but their inability to communicate means law enforcement officials have a hard time figuring out whether a gun-toting criminal should even have a firearm in the first place.
The state's criminal database, the Criminal Justice Information System, contains crime arrest and conviction records and uses fingerprints to identify people in the database. The gun-ownership database, the Maryland Automated Firearm System Services, contains the names, addresses, driver's license numbers and types of guns purchased by anyone buying a regulated firearm in Maryland. It does not require fingerprints.
Because of a difference in the way the data is stored, officials can't cross-reference the two databases to check the gun-ownership records of a convicted felon who should have surrendered his weapons.
The recently signed gun law requires fingerprinting for new handgun purchases made after October 1, but that won't cover the 805,700 regulated firearms already owned by 424,000 Marylanders.
"The situation we have in my opinion in Maryland is what I would call cosmically absurd," said Del. Luiz Simmons, D-Montgomery County. Simmons plans to introduce a bill during the next legislative session to close the loophole. He discovered the problem while sitting on a task force vetting the new gun law.
"I really think there's a black hole in the public safety grid in Maryland, and that black hole is the failure of these computers to communicate with each other."
Simmons estimates his plan would cost $300,000 to write a program to allow the two databases to communicate with each other and an additional $30,000 to $45,000 a year to hire a full-time officer to run the cross-references.
The Maryland Department of Public Safety and Correctional Services oversees both databases. Spokesman Mark Vernarelli said the department supports Simmons' plan to link the two.
"Short of a law requiring all 400,000 people who are already registered in the second firearms database (MAFFS) to be fingerprinted, there is no 100 percent foolproof way to eliminate any concern about this issue," he wrote in an email.
Maryland Troopers Association Executive Director Bob Devers said it would be "preferable" if the databases were linked but challenged the notion that convicted gun owners were slipping through the cracks.
"If they're not [connected], I assume the Maryland State Police are doing their due diligence to make sure that's not occurring," he said. "I've never known them not to do their due diligence."
Maryland State Police spokesman Sgt. Marc Black said criminals are already told to surrender their guns once convicted of a violent crime.
Simmons said that's not enough -- it's easy for someone to ignore that order and keep his gun because the state doesn't enforce the law.
"What we do up in Annapolis so often is we pass laws that sound good, then we don't enforce them," Simmons said. "It's the enforcement that provides deterrence, and we are very, very weak in enforcement and deterrence in Maryland."