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January 31, 2011

Gun Politics Part Two

Richard B. Weldon Jr.

Gun rights debates aren’t just the national argument du jour, either. We have a pretty hot little gun dispute simmering right here in Frederick County.


The annual legislative agenda for the Frederick County Commissioners includes a little item that is starting to draw significant statewide attention. If you didn’t know, Commissioners President Blaine Young is an avid practitioner of shooting sports, and an active Isaac Walton League member.


Let’s say you, Average Joe Citizen, decide it’s time to obtain a gun and carry it for your own protection. It doesn’t really matter, right? Your constitutional right of ownership is already written into the Second Amendment, isn’t it?


As a Maryland resident, the path to acquire and carry a handgun runs right through the Maryland State Police (MSP). Unlike some other states, Maryland is not a state where a citizen is automatically able to own a gun. Here, you first apply to the State Police for a permit. An analyst at MSP headquarters decides whether you should be given a permit or not. Once you get the permit to own, the decision to carry the concealed firearm on your person is taken to an entirely different level.


Presumably, that permit review process is intended to screen out the reasons you shouldn’t have or carry a gun, like the fact that you’re unstable, have a criminal history, or are otherwise deemed unfit. At least, that’s what you’d assume. You’d be wrong.


Former Frederick County Sheriff Robert Snyder, a beloved former Maryland State trooper and elected sheriff, decided a few years ago that he had his own personal reasons for carrying a handgun. He applied for his permit. Months went by, and he hadn’t heard a thing. Finally, he received a rejection of his concealed carry request. He, a former MSP trooper and chief elected county law enforcement officer, was deemed unworthy of a permit to carry a firearm.


Sheriff Snyder contacted former Del. Paul Stull, then chairman of the Frederick County Legislative Delegation. Paul made a few calls, applied a little legislative pressure, and PRESTO, Bob Snyder got his carry permit. If it took that level of intervention to get a retired trooper a carry permit, what are the chances that a shopkeeper, banker, or resident concerned for their safety would get approved?


Commissioner Young has lobbied his colleagues to include a bill to shift the responsibility from the state police to Frederick County Sheriff Chuck Jenkins. Sheriff Jenkins claims he could reduce the time it takes to approve and issue a carry permit.


The current Frederick County delegation is composed of eight members, six of whom are conservative Republicans who support unrestricted gun rights. Given that, you’d assume this proposal is a slam dunk to get introduced in Annapolis, right?


Uh, not so fast. Delegation Chairman Sen. David Brinkley (R, Frederick/Carroll) and freshman uber-conservative Del. Michael Hough (R., Frederick/Washington) are actually opposed to Blaine’s bill. It isn’t that they want to discourage access to carry permits, they’re afraid if Frederick County is given the right to issue a permit more quickly or easily, then legislators in Baltimore City, Prince George’s, or Montgomery County might seek the right to make it more difficult to get a permit within their jurisdiction.


The Frederick delegation opponents to this bill are joined by Dr. James Purtillo (pur-tulo), a self-proclaimed expert on all things guns in Maryland. He publishes a newsletter called Tripwire, and he picks and chooses which state politicians Second Amendment voters should support based on how they line up with his gun policy view.


Dr. Purtillo has worked hard on a simple premise, all gun rights issues should remain a statewide policy matter. He fears the cost and complexity of fighting 24 different fights for firearms rights in 23 counties and the City of Baltimore. He knows his enemy, and better the enemy you know than the one you don’t.


After two separate delegation meetings, the Frederick legislators decided not to move forward with granting Sheriff Jenkins the expanded authority. We’ll never know how influential Tripwire and Jim Purtillo were, but make no mistake, his voice was heard.


The majority in Annapolis has a dim view of firearms, and a dimmer view of concealed carry rights for those firearms. Dr. Purtillo is just being cautious; even he would have to admit that the chance of this bill actually becoming law is a stretch.


In the end, after the bill failed, members of the delegation indicated that they may support a statewide bill to honor carry permits issued legally in other states. That bill probably won’t pass in the Maryland General Assembly, either. Notwithstanding the power of Tripwire, liberals still overwhelmingly outnumber pro-gun conservatives.


Jim Purtillo doesn’t really care about that; he cares more about having legislators vote the way he tells them to. Just ask former Maryland Gov. Bob Ehrlich, U.S. Rep. Andy Harris (R, MD 1st), or former State Sen. Tim Ferguson of Carroll and Frederick counties. All have had their troubles with Dr. Purtillo in the past, and found themselves on the list of targeted politicians on the pages of Tripwire.


Similarly, Senator Brinkley and Delegate Hough may have made themselves some political enemies back home. Commissioner Young and Sheriff Jenkins are powerful voices, and Blaine has a daily radio show.


There’s always a lot of speculation about the future of the Sixth District congressional seat, either when Rep. Roscoe Bartlett decides to retire, or when some aspiring up-and comer decides to take him on. Some think former state senator and current Maryland GOP Chairman Alex Mooney is the presumptive front runner. Sheriff Chuck Jenkins and Senator Brinkley seem to be more viable contenders. Imagine them arguing this issue in a few years; it boggles the mind.


Blaine and Chuck will no doubt make an issue of the betrayal of both Senator Brinkley and Delegate Hough. There are hundreds, if not thousands, of Frederick County residents who hang on their every word. What impact this will have on them is a matter of speculation.


This little dispute has all the makings of a heavyweight fight, and the additional complications associated with the whole question of the Second Amendment and the right to keep and bear arms.


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