In the aftermath of the 2019 Maryland General Assembly session, Sen. Robert A. “Bobby” Zirkin (D-11th) came under fire from some gun control advocates for the legislative body’s inability to close the loophole in state law requiring background checks for long guns, such as shotguns and rifles.

Legislation to close the loophole passed the State Senate and House of Delegates, but the bill died on the final day of legislative business.

An Opinion piece in the Washington Post, authored by that publication’s editorial board, contended, “Mr. Zirkin waited until the very last minute to try to get [a law requiring background checks for private sales of long guns] approved.”

Jmore recently spoke with Zirkin, chairman of the Judicial Proceedings Committee and a longtime advocate for gun safety, about the matter.

Jmore: What did you think was right and what was wrong with this long gun bill?

Zirkin: The Judicial Proceedings Committee sought to close a loophole in the state’s background check system. Currently, secondary sales of hunting rifles, antique rifles and other long guns are not subject to background checks. Under current state law, there is already a primary background check in place. This is for individuals buying hunting rifles, antique rifles or other long guns from a dealer in the state of Maryland.

Unfortunately, the House version put hunters, individuals participating in shooting competitions and other law-abiding citizens in legal jeopardy, which was not the intent. Specifically, details of the bill relating to temporary loans or transfers, such as those between hunters, were also included in the legislation and could potentially lead to creating felons out of individuals doing nothing wrong.

Details of legislation matter, despite good intentions and the titles of bills. The Senate passed a version of this bill that would have closed this loophole, but unfortunately the House version of the bill went way beyond this intent. The House version of the bill would have been more restrictive to long guns than to assault weapons and handguns. 

Why do you think Maryland Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense in America made this legislation a priority?

Gun control advocacy groups seek — rightfully so, in my opinion — to ensure that individuals possessing firearms go through background checks in order to ensure that fewer dangerous individuals have access to firearms. As is the case with every bill, the details of the bill matter.

Did this bill languish on your desk for weeks?

This past legislative session, the Judicial Proceedings Committee considered 476 bills. The issue of background checks was a priority for both the Senate and the House of Delegates. We try to make sure we do our due diligence on every bill that comes before the Judicial Proceedings Committee. The bill mentioned had some problems, which we worked diligently to fix and put into a posture that would serve the citizens of Maryland. Unfortunately, that takes time.

The committee spent a great amount of time correcting the bill so it would serve Marylanders well.

What did you do to get it passed?

The Judicial Proceedings Committee voted the bill out in a posture that was logical and would serve everyone’s constituents well.

How many bills were enacted on the last day of the session?

The Maryland Senate voted on over 300 bills without assigning a day for further hearing.   Unfortunately, there is only so much time, and some bills fail to make it across the finish line. For a national political group to try and use this as some form of clickbait and mislead Marylanders is really disheartening.

What bills have you sponsored or co-sponsored that seek to improve gun safety in Maryland?

The Judicial Proceedings Committee has passed numerous bills to improve the safety of Marylanders. Here are just a few examples of bills that have been passed recently by the Maryland General Assembly. Regarding public safety, we passed a bill that establishes an “extreme risk protective order.” It enables law enforcement and private citizens to seek a court order temporarily preventing a person who may present a danger to others or themselves from purchasing or possessing any firearm or ammunition. In terms of firearm crimes, we passed a bill that prohibits a person from (1) transporting a “rapid fire trigger activator” into the state, or (2) manufacturing, possessing, selling, offering to sell, transferring, purchasing or receiving a rapid fire trigger activator.

The Firearm Safety Act of 2013 significantly modifies and expands the regulation of firearms, firearms dealers and ammunition in the state, and makes significant changes to related mental health restrictions on the possession of firearms.

One of the larger pieces of legislation to go through the Judicial Proceedings Committee was the Comprehensive Crime bill of 2018.  Among many provisions, this bill permits use of wiretaps in firearm-related investigations; increases minimum and maximum penalties for carrying or transporting a firearm; increases the penalty for use of firearm in a “crime of violence”; and expands mandatory sentencing from use of handguns in felony or violent crimes.

What bills have you sponsored or co-sponsored that seek to decrease homicides and other major crimes in Maryland?

In past four years, the Judicial Proceedings Committee, as well as the Maryland General Assembly as a whole, have passed very meaningful legislation aimed at protecting our families and communities. Several provisions of law relating to crimes of violence have been made stronger. Similarly, we have made the laws stronger regarding firearm possession in the commission of a felony or other crimes of violence. In certain cases, including previous conviction of a crime of violence, the offender is subject to a mandatory minimum penalty of five years imprisonment. The Judicial Proceedings Committee also increased the maximum penalty for second-degree murder from imprisonment for up to 30 years to imprisonment for up to 40 years.

What do you plan to do about the long guns loophole legislation for the next session?

Just like every bill that comes across the desk in Judicial Proceedings, we will take a good, hard look at the issue and the effects that it will have on Marylanders. We obviously supported the bill as amended, and voted the bill out of the Senate. If an individual is purchasing a firearm, he or she should have a background check.

Peter Arnold is an Olney, Md.-based freelance writer.