HAGERSTOWN — A gun owners’ rights group has threatened to sue 35 Maryland counties or municipalities unless they repeal regulations that the group says violate state gun laws.
The Second Amendment Foundation of Bellevue, Wash., said Thursday that Maryland is the third state targeted in its campaign to eliminate more-restrictive local laws in states where local governments have little or no authority to regulate firearms.
The group has run similar projects in its home state and Virginia, said Alan M. Gottlieb, the group’s founder and executive vice president. He said Oregon is next, and the group aims to eventually hit as many as 42 states that have laws pre-empting the rights of counties or municipalities to regulate guns.
“There are thousands of laws in the United States that are on the books that are pre-empted by state laws,” Gottlieb said in a telephone interview. He said the local ordinances are illegal and confusing.
“We find that over time, people get prosecuted or arrested at least, and charges have to be dropped. Gun owners get harassed,” Gottlieb said.
He said the foundation aims to get at least 800 gun laws off the books nationwide.
Gottlieb said “a significant number” of local ordinances have been repealed since the group launched the first such project in December in Virginia. He wouldn’t say how many.
Cumberland is on its way to becoming one of the group’s success stories. City attorney Michael S. Cohen said in an April 5 response to the foundation’s letter that he would draft a repeal of an ordinance prohibiting people other than police officers from carrying concealed pistols. Cohen wrote that the law hasn’t been enforced because of the state’s pre-emption statute, which took effect in 1985.
The Cumberland City Council voted Tuesday to begin the process of repealing the ordinance.
Worcester County disputed the foundation’s assertion that its ordinance banning the possession of firearms in dry nightclubs conflicts with state law. County Attorney John E. “Sonny” Bloxom wrote in an April 3 response that the pre-emption statute contains exceptions, including one authorizing counties to regulate gun possession in places of public assembly. The Worcester County Commissioners have determined that dry nightclubs — nightclubs that don’t serve alcohol — are places of public assembly, Bloxom wrote.
He said the county wouldn’t repeal the ordinance but added that the commissioners “respect and fully support the Second Amendment and applaud your efforts to protect this valuable freedom.”
Gottlieb said the foundation hasn’t decided whether to sue Worcester County.
Walkersville officials took a dimmer view of the foundation’s demand for repeal of their town’s ban on carrying loaded guns within town limits. They have asked their lawyer to review the foundation’s request but “I found the letter rather offensive,” Town Commissioner Russell Winch said.
“I see far less urgency to change anything within our town if people all the way on the other side of the country send threatening letters that we need to change something,” he said. “If there’s a change someone wants to make, they should present themselves at the meeting as a common courtesy to talk about it.”
Gottlieb said the foundation is preparing to file about a half-dozen lawsuits in Virginia, but he wouldn’t identify the targets.
He said the project stemmed from the foundation’s successful campaign to repeal Seattle’s prohibition on people carrying guns in local parks and community centers where children gather. The city implemented the ban in 2009 after three people were hurt in a festival shooting. A King County judge struck it down as pre-empted by state law, and a state appeals court agreed. Washington’s Supreme Court refused to hear the city’s appeal last year.
Gottlieb said the foundation targeted Maryland before the state legislature approved tougher gun laws this spring.
He said any litigation will be funded by the group’s contributors and 650,000 members, including about 8,000 in Maryland.
The National Rifle Association isn’t financially supporting the campaign, foundation spokesman David Workman said.