Opponents of Maryland's tough new gun-control law said Wednesday that they will not seek to petition it to referendum and instead will back a lawsuit planned by the National Rifle Association.
"This is a constitutional right that should not go to the citizens to vote on," said Republican Del. Neil Parrott of Western Maryland, founder of the mdpetitions.com group that has successfully petitioned three other laws to referendum in the past two years.
Flanked by representatives of the NRA, Maryland-based gun-rights groups, and other Republican lawmakers, Parrott announced the plans to a crowd of 70 at a Jessup fundraising event for mdpetitions.com.
Leaders of several gun-rights groups said they were confident they would have won at the ballot box but that their money and effort would be better spent trying to oust Maryland lawmakers who voted to pass the measure that bans the sale of assault-type weapons and requires a license to buy a handgun.
The Associated Gun Clubs of Baltimore has agreed to set aside $50,000 to fund a new political action committee called Take Back Maryland that will target state legislators who supported the gun bill, said John H. Josselyn, the group's legislative vice president. Josselyn said it should be up and running within two weeks.
Gun-control advocates celebrated the referendum announcement as a sign that the law would take effect Oct. 1 and not be delayed until after the November 2014 election. Gov. Martin O'Malley, a Democrat, introduced the bill and plans to sign the measure next month.
It will ban the sale of 45 assault-type rifles and their copycats, limit magazines to 10 bullets and require fingerprints and a license to buy a handgun in Maryland. It creates penalties for failing to report a gun lost or stolen and empowers state police to audit gun dealers.
Several opinion polls indicate broad public support for the measure, but the proposal drew repeated protests from gun-rights advocates. They say the measure infringes on Second Amendment rights and is an unnecessary reaction to the December shooting deaths of 20 children and six educators at a Connecticut elementary school.
The bill passed largely with support from urban Democrats. Opponents have also likened the cost and inconvenience of licensing to a poll tax.
"We don't tax what is a right. We don't license what is a right," Parrott said. "They can't tax us to go to church, and they can't tax us to have free speech. They shouldn't tax us to own a handgun."
NRA President David Keene, who lives in Maryland, has said it is unconstitutional to ban guns in wide use such as the AR-15 rifle. That gun was used in the Connecticut shooting with magazines that hold 30 bullets.
"The provisions of the bill are squarely in line with the United States Constitution -- something the attorney general confirmed as well," said O'Malley spokeswoman Raquel Guillory.
Patrick Shomo, executive director of Maryland Shall Issue, said a referendum to overturn the law was "tempting."
"We could snap our fingers and get the bill delayed," Shomo said. "I've got people lined up to volunteer to stand on city corners and sign people up."
Vincent DeMarco, president of the board of Marylanders to Prevent Gun Violence, agreed that opponents could easily have gotten the measure on the ballot, though he said he expected it to lose. DeMarco said he was "thrilled" the law will not be put before voters and cause a delay.
An NRA statement distributed at Wednesday's event said "litigation is currently the best and only responsible avenue" to reverse the law.
Keene told a Washington radio station last week that the organization plans to challenge Maryland's law in court. The organization has filed a legal challenge to New York's new gun-control law.
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