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In Brief

Guns and Roses

How respect for both sides could lead to reform.

Photograph by Christopher Soldt, MTS, BC

Two panelists well schooled in the intricacies of gun control, Massachusetts Attorney General Maura Healey (above) and former Maryland Governor Martin O’Malley, engaged in a blunt and engaging ninety-minute conversation on gun control in April.

The event was moderated by Professor R. Michael Cassidy, faculty director of the Rappaport Center for Law and Public Policy, which sponsored the event.

Healey started by saying that gun control is near and dear to her. She ran her first campaign for state attorney general on the issue.

Since taking office in 2015, Healey said she has done much to drive down gun-related violence: sending letters to gun distributors and suppliers to “remind them of the rules of the road;” cracking down on dealers selling or dealing guns illegally; and enforcing existing state laws with regard to guns such as the Glock pistol and the AR-15 assault rifle.

Maura Healy ran her first campaign for Massachusetts AG on the gun control issue and still works to drive down gun-related violence.

O’Malley, in turn, told of passing a litany of stricter measures for fingerprinting and training gun buyers, while also banning certain types of assault rifles and high-capacity magazines. He spoke about the shock of the 2012 school shootings in Newtown, Connecticut, and saying to his gubernatorial staff the morning after: “I’m a little embarrassed that we haven’t taken a run at [gun control] before.”

While the O’Malley administration was getting tougher gun measures on the books in Maryland—both chambers of the Maryland General Assembly were controlled by Democrats inclined to support stricter gun control—the response at the national level was different, he observed. The Obama administration, for example, was largely unsuccessful in its post-Newtown push for more stringent laws because the issue was a non-starter for many Republicans in Congress.

O’Malley drew one crucial distinction that he believed paved the way for his successful firearms safety act in Maryland, which was upheld earlier this year in the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals in Richmond. He “set a tone of not vilifying the other side in order to get this done. It was really about the dignity of every human person, and taking action,” he said, rather than succumbing to partisanship and ideology. He didn’t trample on hunters’ rights, he explained, and he worked to get the stories, opinions, and advice of state and municipal police forces.

He also  sent a letter to every registered hunter in the state, thanked them for preserving Maryland’s hunting traditions, and assured them that despite what the NRA might say, he was not trying to take their guns but rather trying to put forth common sense safety measures.

Healey seemed to share O’Malley’s frustration with the lack of effective measures and stringent enforcement or action by federal and state lawmakers. Such circumstances make it difficult for officials in Massachusetts and Maryland to stymie gun officials. Individuals can buy guns in states that have loose gun laws and then transport them across state lines and deal the guns illegally.

Healey and O’Malley both emphasized that it falls squarely on lawmakers’ and litigators’ shoulders to strive to avoid the “needless, senseless violence and destruction out there”—as O’Malley put it—that accompanies gun violence.