Guns and the Guv
Why are gun owners less than thrilled about a Republican governor who came to office making friendly gestures to gun owners, and who has even caught flak from Democrats and gun-control groups for his stance on firearms?
Ask John H. Josselyn, an advocate of gun owners' rights, and he'll tell you that Maryland is way too stingy when it comes to issuing concealed handgun carry permits. In a state of 5.6 million people, the Maryland State Police issued a total of only 4,190 concealed carry permits in 2005, including renewals.
Just showing up late to an interview with investigators who conduct background checks could be cause for the state police Licensing Division to deny you a permit, Josselyn says. Investigators can also look into your credit history, your educational background, your medical records.
"You have to prove somehow that your life is worth defending," John H. Josselyn, the legislative vice president for the Associated Gun Clubs of Baltimore, says. "It's all discretionary."
Josselyn believes the Maryland State Police, which issues the permits, could lighten up a little in clearing law-abiding citizens for carry permits--and they might, if only Governor Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. would lean on them a little more to do it. That's why Josselyn, and some other gun owners, has not made up his mind about whether Ehrlich has been a friend to their cause.
"The jury's still out," Josselyn says. "And in this case, the jury is the voters."
State Police officials, meanwhile, say they are only trying to balance a gun owner's interest in carrying a weapon for self-defense against concerns for the public's safety. The process is rigorous because the stakes are high when it comes to allowing someone to walk around with a loaded weapon on them, state police spokesman Greg Shipley says.
"They are out among the public. That is, a we believe a higher level of responsibility requires a higher level of scrutiny," Shipley said.
Shipley said there is discretion involved to decide if someone's "instability" would be cause to deny them a carry permit. Maybe a single visit to a shrink would not disqualify an applicant. But maybe it would--depending on what the psychiatrist had to say.
The State Police may deny a permit if, while contacting references or associates, they discover that the applicant is a hothead.
"It is a serious issue we're dealing with here," Shipley said. If they error, they want to error on the side of caution."
Del. Anthony J. O'Donnell, a Republican the General Assembly's minority whip, says gun owners should be happy that Ehrlich has not been like his predecessors in enacting major gun-control initiatives.
"I think this governor has done a very good job," O'Donnell says. "For years, we said, 'Just enforce the laws we have.' We've had four years of that. The beating has quit. And it feels pretty good.
"And, Lord knows, what someone like Doug Duncan or Martin O'Malley would cram down our throats if they get ahold of that office. Just look at their public statements."
Both O'Malley, who is mayor of Baltimore, and Duncan, the Montgomery County executive, are seeking the Democratic nomination for governor, and both have made a point of their differences with Ehrlich on guns. Duncan and O'Malley, for example, both back a ban on assault weapons, which Ehrlich has opposed.
To gun-owners, such issues mean a lot because they are notoriously focused on their single issue that to some is a life and death question, Josselyn said.
"Do you want to go home at night to your family? Walking in, as opposed to being carried in? So do I," Josselyn said.
Josselyn said his resolve to fight for gun rights deepened while working against the 1988 referendum on banning "Saturday Night Special" handguns. A petite woman who looked to be in her 70s, came to the polls and, speaking with a foreign accent, wanted to be clear on what she was voting for, Josselyn recalled.
"She looked at me and said, 'I'll never let the government take my guns again,'" Josselyn said. Curious, he followed her out after she cast her ballot to learn more.
"I said, I have to know. Where are you from? I can't place your accent," Josselyn said. "She looked at me with these cool gray eyes and said, 'Czechoslovakia.' It put a chilll in my spine, which I still feel today as I tell it."
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