By Lyna Bentahar
WASHINGTON, D.C. – On June 20, Sen. Chris Van Hollen (D-Md.) and Rep. Jamie Raskin (D-Md.) reintroduced the Handgun Purchaser Licensing Act to Congress, in partnership with Rep. Jahana Hayes and Sens. Richard Blumenthal and Chris Murphy (all D-Conn.).
Van Hollen had first introduced the bill in 2015 in the House, and again in April 2018 in the Senate. They have failed to pass both times.
“Every single day, gun violence tears at the fabric of our families and our communities,” said Van Hollen. “Permit-to-purchase laws have been proven to change that, and we should be doing everything we can to encourage states to put these programs in place.
“States require licenses to drive a car in order to protect public safety,” Van Hollen added. “Requiring a license to buy a handgun should be a no-brainer.”
The bill, if enacted, would provide a federal grant program to states and local governments that enacted permit-to-purchase, or PTP laws. States, local governments and Native American tribes would be eligible if they required a license to purchase a handgun, and that license was restricted to United States residents 21 years and older. License applicants would also be required to undergo background checks and submit photos and fingerprints for identification. The grant money would be required to be used to improve licensing programs in these jurisdictions.
“Background checks serve as a good starting point to screen out prohibited individuals, but we cannot stop there,” said Elizabeth Banach, executive director of Marylanders to Prevent Gun Violence. Banach supported the bill’s additional measures, such as photo and fingerprint submissions, stating they would have a significant impact on lowering straw handgun purchases, in which eligible buyers purchase a handgun on behalf of someone who is ineligible.
Maryland is one of nine states that currently has a PTP law on the books. Maryland law also requires handguns to be registered and licensed owners must have permits to carry.
Raskin, who represents Maryland’s eighth congressional district, will cosponsor the bill for the first time with his fellow Maryland congressmen.
“When I was in the Maryland State Senate, I worked to pass one of the most comprehensive gun safety laws in the nation,” Raskin said in a press release. “Maryland now has some of the nation’s best firearm safety laws.”
In 2012, Raskin and State Sens. Brian Frosh, Lisa Gladden and Bill Ferguson introduced a series of laws to the 2013 General Assembly, in light of the Sandy Hook shooting, which took place that year. The Firearm Safety Act of 2013, which set limitations on how firearms could be carried, purchased or used in the state of Maryland, was passed as part of this effort.
The Handgun Purchaser Licensing Act of 2019 also seeks to address concerns of guns entering Maryland illegally. Currently, no state that Maryland shares a border with has a PTP law. The licensing act would seek to change that.
The licensing bill is largely influenced by studies done in Connecticut, which adopted a handgun purchaser licensing law in 1995. According to a 2015 study by John Hopkins Center, the state saw a 40% reduction in firearm homicide and a 15% reduction in firearm suicide rates in the next decade since 2015. In contrast, Missouri’s repeal of its handgun purchaser licensing act in 2007 saw a 27% increase in firearm homicide rates and a 16% increase in firearm suicides.