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Republican Senators Want to Legalize Semi-Automatic Rifles

Rachel Baye

In the wake of the shooting at an elementary school in Newtown, Connecticut a little more than five years ago, Maryland passed a law banning “assault weapons” and large-capacity, detachable magazines. The ban includes a long list of semi-automatic handguns and rifles, including AR-15-style rifles, like those used in several mass shootings, including last month’s school shooting in Parkland, Florida.

Now Republican lawmakers in Annapolis are sponsoring a bill to remove the rifles and other long guns from the ban.

Sponsored by all 13 Republican members of the state Senate, the bill also repeals the handgun licensing requirements the 2013 law established, as well as the restrictions on certain types of ammunition.

Sen. Steve Waugh, the lead sponsor, told the Senate Judicial Proceedings Committee on Tuesday that these parts of the law clearly didn’t reduce gun violence.

“The amount of gun violence that is committed with long guns is vanishingly small, and it’s roughly a 10th of what’s done with hands and fists,” he said.

In fact, he said, gun violence has only increased since the law passed.

“Why do we need to keep those clauses from that bill in the law if a, it hasn’t worked, and b, it only infringes on the rights of lawful, law-abiding citizens?” he asked.

Sen. Victor Ramirez, a Democrat who represents part of Prince George’s County, asked Waugh to clarify whether his bill would legalize AR-15-style semi-automatic rifles, the type of gun used to kill 17 people at a high school in Parkland, Florida last month. Waugh confirmed that it would.

Attorney General Brian Frosh sponsored the 2013 ban as a state senator. In written testimony opposing Waugh’s bill, his office noted that it also repeals the requirements that someone buying a gun receive basic firearm safety training and submit fingerprints for an enhanced background check.

The testimony said both of those requirements have been shown to reduce straw purchases — when someone buys a gun for someone else who doesn’t want his or her name attached to the gun.

“Tragically, the mass shootings with dangerous weapons of war that the Firearm Safety Act was enacted to prevent have become all too common in our nation,” the Office of the Attorney General wrote. “Repealing the ban on assault weapons, as this bill would do, would make Marylanders less safe.”

Rachel Baye is a senior reporter and editor in WYPR's newsroom.
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