This story was updated at 10:45 p.m. July 11, 2022, to include more information.
The proposed bill only covers two pages, but Montgomery County leaders are hoping the measure, if approved, will serve to curb what has been a growing problem: gun violence.
County Council President Gabe Albornoz is scheduled Tuesday to introduce legislation that would limit the possession of firearms in “places of public assembly” in the county. Under current county law, Marylanders with state wear-and-carry permits are allowed to possess firearms “within 100 yards of or in a park, church, school, public building, and other place of public assembly,” according to a county staff report.
Albornoz’ bill, co-sponsored by council members Tom Hucker and Andrew Friedson, would eliminate that provision from county law. Exemptions in the existing state law that are included in the proposed bill include those for police officers or security guards, business owners, residents who live within 100 yards of a place of public assembly, and instructors for firearm safety and use.
In a Monday news briefing, Albornoz said the bill is meant to provide more peace of mind for county residents and others who attend public events in the county. He noted that he attended six events on July 4 — the date seven people were killed and more than 40 people were wounded after a shooting at an Independence Day parade in Highland Park, Illinois.
Residents shouldn’t have to worry about ways to escape an armed intruder or look around to see if someone has a firearm while out in public, he added.
“That’s just a terrible way to live, frankly,” Albornoz said. “And so, we want to minimize the concern, to the full extent possible, of our residents who are concerned about people carrying weapons within places of public assembly … . We should not have to worry about these things when we go to the movies and we go to our places of worship or we go to the mall.”
Marcus Jones, the county’s police chief, told reporters that while law enforcement officers are trained to notice whether somebody might be carrying a weapon, including a concealed firearm, each case will be handled individually, should the proposed legislation become law.
Jones, who supported the legislation, said that it’s possible that some people might be arrested if they are found to be carrying a firearm. But each officer will make that decision on a case-by-case, depending on the circumstances, he added.
Jones didn’t deny that stop-and-frisk policies could be used to enforce the law, but added that it would depend on each circumstance.
“It could rise to that depending upon the number of complaints, or if we see individuals that we believe that are carrying weapons based upon an officer’s experience and their observations,” Jones said.
John McCarthy, the state’s attorney for the county, added that a police officer would need to have a specific reason to stop and frisk a person.
“To conduct a stop and frisk, you need to be able to articulate a basis for the stop,” McCarthy said. “You don’t have the right under any circumstances to walk up and just indiscriminately stop and frisk someone.”
Both Jones and McCarthy said they hope the proposed bill, if passed, helps reduce random acts of violence in county public spaces. Jones said that incidents involving gun violence have nearly doubled through July 11 of 2022, versus the same time range in 2021.
“Sometimes things can escalate out of hand very quickly, the presence of guns in these circumstances, in these kinds of [public] assemblies, when something is not premeditated, not by design, but somebody just loses their temper and has access to a handgun … [is] the kind of situations and settings that the [council] president’s bill addresses,” McCarthy said.
Albornoz said his bill would be what is called an expedited piece of legislation, meaning a final vote could occur by July 26, before the County Council adjourns for its summer recess. The council is off July 19 for Primary Election Day.
Steve Bohnel can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org