Baltimore County gun shops would have to beef up their security under a proposal that was before the county council Tuesday.
County Executive Johnny Olszewski said more has to be done to keep guns out of the hands of criminals. But some council members raised concerns the proposal would put too much of a burden on small businesses.
When Olszewski proposed the legislation, he pointed to burglaries in Montgomery and Howard Counties this past June. Burglars smashed cars into two gun shops and stole 45 weapons.
The proposal would require gun shops to have outside physical barriers. Gun store owners also would need to put firearms in secure locations like a cage or a locked room at night. They would need to have video surveillance and an alarm.
The police chief would have the flexibility to approve a license for a shop based on the steps it has taken to secure the store.
Temporary gun shows would have to increase security as well.
Baltimore County Police Chief Melissa Hyatt told the council that seven gun shops in the county were burglarized a total of 13 times in the last two years.
“Despite being frequent targets for criminals, these stores currently have no legal requirement to secure their businesses or their inventory after hours which is a stark contrast to other retailers,” Hyatt said.
Maryland law prohibits localities from regulating firearms. But there is an exception if the gun shop is within 100 yards of a public place like a church, park or school. According to the Olszewski administration, that means all but one of the county’s 19 gun shops can be regulated.
But both Republican Councilman Todd Crandell and Democratic Council Chairwoman Cathy Bevins raised concerns about the cost.
Bevins said one business owner is estimating it would cost $50,000 to comply.
“$50,000, when you haven’t prepared for that, you know that could put you out of business,” Bevins said.
A county spokesman said there are zero interest loans available for gun shop owners to make the security upgrades.
Both Bevins and Republican Councilman David Marks questioned why the Free State Gun Range in Middle River would have to comply with the proposed licensing. Marks said Free State is nowhere near a public place so should not fall under the legislation.
“I’ve been to Free State,” Marks said. “It’s in an office park.”
Meg Ferguson, Assistant County Attorney at the Baltimore County Police Department, told Marks that Free State is such a large business that it is considered a place of public assembly.
“It’s the building code and fire code standards,” Ferguson said.
Marks called that “Ridiculous.”
Democratic Councilman Izzy Patoka was the one member of the seven-member council who voiced his full support for the legislation Tuesday.
"I doubt that the person who gets that stolen assault weapon is going to go get it registered with the state police,” Patoka said. “I think they’re going to use it for some other activity and that scares me”
The county council is expected to vote on the proposal next Tuesday. But its fate is uncertain. Amendments likely will be proposed to try to secure the four votes needed to pass the legislation.