House Bill 159, a bill that would bar any “person from carrying or possessing a firearm on the property of a public institution of higher education” will move on to the Maryland Senate after passing the Maryland House of Delegates.
Currently, it is up to individual campuses in Maryland to determine what gun policies will apply to its property. The University of Maryland, College Park has a no-carry policy. However, the delegates supporting the proposed law still believe it is necessary.
“Policy is easily changed, force of law and statute is not,” District 21 Del. Benjamin Barnes (D – Prince George’s and Anne Arundel Counties) said at a House Committee Appropriations meeting. “Giving it the force of law affords us penalties, which can deter this behavior, in the form of jail or fines.”
According to the proposed bill, “a violator is guilty of a misdemeanor and subject to maximum penalties of imprisonment for three years and/or a $1,000 fine.”
District 16 Del. C. William Frick (D – Montgomery County), the majority leader of the House, believes the bill will not bring about significant changes to the current state of guns on campuses.
“I really don’t think [the bill] will change rules on campus,” Frick said. “This is already a campus policy. I’m pretty certain this is a common sense safety measure.”
Last year a version of the bill passed the House but was later shut down in the Senate.
“I don’t really know what their objections were [last year] and why they were opposed to it,” Frick said. “I’m not really sure what opposition there is. Generally in the House, for the most part, the opposition was often political ideological opposition to limits on gun possession.”
One of the reasons District 33 Del. Tony McConkey (R- Anne Arundel County) cited for his opposition to the bill was “not providing for the unintended victims” of the law.
“Particularly University of Maryland,” McConkey said. “There are so many little pieces and parts [that] half the time you’re not even sure if you’re on campus or not on campus… If I was driving from Hyattsville to Adelphi, and I cut through one little corner, and it’s not even obvious that you’re on the campus at that point, and I got pulled over and I had a gun in my car — legally had a gun in my car — I could run afoul of this bill.”
Barnes responded to this hypothetical situation by claiming “the bill does not have mandatory minimum sentences.”
“If a judge believes that this was a pure accident, and the person had a permit to carry or otherwise, they could, in that instance, offer probation before judgement — which is not a conviction,” Barnes said.
Although there was opposition to the bill last year, Barnes acknowledged that this is just a “natural extension of our existing policy and law.”
Barnes also named the prevention of suicide as a reason for the push for passing House Bill 159.
During the House Committee Appropriations, Barnes said that 18-to-22-year-olds are “nine times” more likely to attempt suicide than the general population.
“This is a population we can directly affect with this bill,” Barnes said. “The mortality rate of suicide with a gun is 85 percent. The mortality rate of suicide without a gun is 5 percent. That is important and that goes directly to why we need this bill.”
The Senate has until adjournment on April 10 to make a final decision.