Monday, April 20, 2009

Fact Check: Kramer’s Challenge to Navarro on Guns

Delegate Ben Kramer (D-19) has shown his displeasure with Nancy Navarro’s negative mailers in recent debates. But one reference to a gun vote has attracted special ire and caused Kramer to issue a dramatic challenge. At stake is Kramer’s entire candidacy – and that’s according to Kramer himself.

Kramer disputes this statement from one of Navarro’s mailers:

NRA & the Gun Lobby: Ben Kramer sponsored pro-gun legislation, making it easier to buy handguns in Maryland, that was touted by a Republican blog as a “step in the right direction.” The Washington Post noted “adding guns to an already combustible situation is likely to lead to more violence.”

By the Riderwood forum last Thursday, Kramer began pushing back against this allegation. One of his volunteers quoted him as making the following challenge:

If Nancy Navarro can find one bill that I sponsored or voted for that weakens gun control protections, I will resign from this race. But if she can’t, I want her to stand up on Election Day with a sign that says, “I apologize to Ben Kramer.”
I heard Kramer state the challenge in a slightly different way at Friday’s Leisure World debate:

If Nancy Navarro can point to a single vote by me to make handguns easier to buy in Maryland, I’ll withdraw from the race. Otherwise, she should apologize with a sign on the street on Election Day saying that “I was wrong about Ben Kramer.”
So did Ben Kramer support weakening gun control protections or making it easier to buy handguns? What are we going to see on Election Day: a big withdrawal or a big sign?

The focus of the dispute is HB 359, a bill that was lead-sponsored by Republican Delegate Tony McConkey (R-33A) and co-sponsored by Kramer and three others. The bill’s fiscal and policy note summarizes its purpose this way:

This bill requires the Secretary of State Police to issue a handgun permit to a victim of domestic violence who has been issued a temporary or final protective order, assuming the individual meets other statutory handgun permit requirements. Specifically, the bill adds an individual who has been issued a temporary or final protective order to those individuals who, after meeting other statutory handgun permit requirements, are deemed to have a “good and substantial reason” to wear, carry, or transport a handgun.
The bill was extremely controversial. Advocates claimed it would help abuse victims defend themselves. Opponents claimed it would have unintended consequences. Consider these statements from one Baltimore City Delegate:

Del. Cheryl D. Glenn (D-Baltimore), who last week rose on the floor to passionately recount her own experiences as the victim of violent beatings by an ex-husband in the 1970s, urged the bill’s defeat.

“I can tell you as a victim, if I had had access to a gun at my most serious instances of domestic violence, I would have used it,” Glenn said. “Killing someone would have changed who I am today.”
The Washington Post had these reservations about a similar Senate amendment:

Victims’ advocates and law enforcement officers have serious concerns about the amendment. They worry that an abuser could discover a firearm hidden by a victim or wrestle away a gun during a dispute. It takes considerable training, police officials note, to be able to effectively wield a gun in self-defense. There’s another wrinkle: An abuser could misleadingly claim to be a victim of domestic violence and file for a protective order. This would rush a gun into the hands of someone capable of violence. And police officers called to domestic disputes could find themselves in greater danger.
In the end, the House bill was defeated 86-51. Kramer and Luiz Simmons (D-17) were the only Montgomery Delegates who voted for it.

Let’s evaluate Kramer’s challenge.

1. Does the bill make it easier to buy guns?

The bill never uses the term “buy.” It does require the Secretary of State Police to issue a permit to “carry, wear or transport a handgun” to applicants who have received a protective order from a judge. (An amendment changed the language to allow the Secretary to “consider” those protective orders as criteria for the permits.)

The bill’s fiscal and policy note states that 17,427 temporary protective orders and 9,104 final protective orders were granted by Maryland judges in fiscal year 2007. The note assumes that 10% of eligible individuals would apply for permits if the bill was passed, resulting in 1,700 to 1,800 additional applications per year. The bill estimates that the state would earn $130,500 more per year in permit application fees but would pay out an extra $240,600-$306,800 annually for the hire of two additional state troopers to process the applications.

Guns can only be obtained in one of two ways: by purchase or by theft. Most abuse victims are incapable of conjuring guns out of thin air. (If they could do that, there would be a lot less abuse!) Furthermore, individuals who steal guns rarely apply for permits for them. It defies common sense that a bill allowing thousands of people to more easily obtain permits would not result in more gun purchases.

Kramer is splitting hairs. Plain and simple, this bill would have allowed more people to legally buy guns – 1,700-1,800 in all per year. Whether those guns would have served a good purpose is a legitimate subject of debate.

2. Does the bill weaken gun control regulations?

Buried in the fiscal and policy note is this statement:

DSP [Department of State Police] has questioned whether, after an order has expired, a handgun permit properly issued under the bill would still be valid. If not, the permit and the weapon might have to be forfeited. Because it takes about 120 days for the actual issuance of a printed permit, and because temporary protective orders can only be issued for 30 days, it would seem likely that those persons not issued a subsequent final order will have had the basis for issuance expire.
This is an important point that received no attention during the debate over the bill. A temporary protective order only lasts 30 days, but a gun permit takes 120 days to process. What happens if a temporary protective order expires but the gun permit is issued anyway? The individual who receives the permit would no longer have a legal basis for possessing it. The prospect of hundreds, maybe thousands of individuals obtaining gun permits without a current legal basis for having them is definitely a weakening of gun control regulations.

Kramer’s challenge fails. Will he withdraw?

Update: Ann Marimow really fell down on the job this time. Her rushed Washington Post article makes no reference to the above facts. She did not bother to read the bill or its fiscal and policy note, a serious disservice to her readers.