JERUSALEM (AFP) – Maryland is cracking down on guns in an attempt to prevent the spread of the deadly Ebola virus, but rights groups say it’s “disgustingly” unfair to criminals.
The state’s gun laws are among the strictest in the nation, and some gun rights groups are outraged.
But state lawmakers have been quick to praise the sweeping measures as a necessary measure to combat the spread.
“It is absolutely despicable that a state with a gun law that has already passed in the state of Pennsylvania, and is expected to pass in Maryland in a couple of weeks, would go to extreme measures to prevent gun crime,” said David Klinger, president of the Maryland Rifle Association.
“We’re here to protect the rights of our citizens, not to make it easier for criminals to get their hands on a weapon.”
Under a controversial provision of the state’s current gun law, people who have been convicted of a crime for which they were ordered to pay a fine or court costs can be banned from owning guns.
In order to make the law work, the Maryland legislature adopted a bill in February that makes it harder for the courts to dismiss criminal charges against people convicted of drug, alcohol or other misdemeanours, as well as the sale of illegal weapons.
It also gives the state the power to revoke licenses for people convicted for possession of guns, ammunition and other ammunition.
In addition, the law allows prosecutors to use the state gun database to determine if someone is a threat to public safety.
“If you’ve been convicted for drug possession, that’s an extremely severe penalty, and it should be applied to anyone convicted of that,” said Maryland state Rep. James Thompson (D), who sponsored the measure.
“The problem is, that is the only thing that we’re going to be able to prove is that someone has committed a crime.
And so, in order to be a threat, you’re either going to have to commit a crime or have committed a misdemeanor.”
It has been a hot-button issue for the state, which is reeling from the deadly coronavirus outbreak that has killed at least 2,096 people in the United States and infected nearly 800,000 people, mostly in the Southeast.
Maryland has seen an increase in the number of people who travel to the United Kingdom and elsewhere in Europe to buy guns from the US.
The measure passed in a mostly Republican legislature, with most Democrats in favor of the new law.
It will take effect on October 2, although the governor has said it will be subject to an appeal process.
In the first half of 2019, Maryland recorded 5.4 fatal gun homicides per 100,000 residents, compared to 2.7 in the first six months of this year, according to the Maryland State Police.
That compares with a nationwide rate of 3.7.