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Assessing Maryland’s gun safety policies

The United States has racked up a startling 12 school shootings only one month into 2018. The settings have ranged from elementary schools to college campuses. Maryland specifically is known for some of the strictest gun laws in the nation, with sellers in neighboring states even refusing to sell to Maryland residents.

However, since 2002, there have been four school shootings across the state, the latest recorded in 2015. While none of these attacks proved fatal, and in one instance could not have been prevented by any action of the school, the threat still looms. Maryland students and parents are wondering what can be done to ease this anxiety.

It seems the American public is growing dishearteningly accustomed to a new and terrifying norm. According to the CDC, 90 percent of schools have developed a plan of action for school shootings and occasionally drill their student body. Faced with such a grim set of circumstances, schools and universities across the country must appeal to their state and federal governments for simple changes to the policies regarding gun safety that could ultimately save a number of lives.

According to federal law, almost any 21-year-old, tax-paying, law-abiding American can purchase a handgun after passing an exam. Maryland is not an open carry state and requires a somewhat extensive process to obtain a legal permit to carry a concealed handgun. As in 23 other states, the decision to ban or allow concealed carry is left to the individual universities in Maryland. UMBC prohibits the possession of any weapons.

A gun permit requires at least 16 hours of training in gun safety and must be renewed after two years and then every three years following. Fingerprinting is used to conduct background checks. However, permit renewal does not require subsequent fingerprinting, meaning there is less information as more time accumulates with the permit. This leaves all information on criminal activity to documentation by the police and the justice system, which is not always the most reliable. 

In many cases, school shooters are members of the student body or faculty. In most cases involving a student as the shooter, they typically use whatever weapon they can get their hands on. A case study tracked 123 instances of gun violence on school property between 1992 and 1999. Out of the 128 weapons used in the 123 cases, 37.5 percent came from the shooter’s own home with 23.4 percent coming from a friend or a relative.

Maryland law does dictate that it is unlawful for any loaded weapon to be of physical access to a child, and gun safety training recommends the use of trigger locks in the home. Further steps could easily ensure an even lower access in which gun safes, cabinets or some versions of a locked unit are utilized by legislation, not including any weapon specifically registered for use of home protection.

In Maryland, there is no registry for rifles or shotguns and no need for a license to purchase. This is discouraging because in the same case study, almost 50 percent of the attacks involved a rifle or shotgun. So while a rifle or shotgun is nowhere near “concealable,” it seems pragmatic to believe that a simple change to licensing and registration would restrict at least some access to obtaining a weapon, a solution which could reduce that number by half.

If some of these systematic changes could drop the annual number of school shootings by just one instance, their effectiveness would be validated and surely appreciated.