Chase Cook The Capital, Annapolis, Md.
SALISBURY, Md. — Wicomico County Sheriff Mike Lewis has a message for Maryland lawmakers if they pass legislation regulating ownership of rifles and shotguns: His office will not comply.
“The way the bill is written, it is impossible to comply,” Lewis said Monday. “I can’t send (my deputies) on a suicide mission.”
The Maryland county sheriff made those comments shortly after testifying in opposition to House Bill 786. He made similar comments in the overflow room watching hearings on gun legislation in the morning. Lewis was in downtown Annapolis all day Monday testifying against several different gun bills.
If any of those bills required his deputies to take away guns for law-abiding citizens, Lewis said he wouldn’t do it.
Videos of those comments were uploaded to social media. Maryland sheriffs are elected officials and sworn to uphold state laws and the U.S. Constitution.
House Bill 786 would regulate shotguns and hunting rifles similarly to handguns. It creates a long gun qualification license and forbids residents from buying or possessing those guns without the approved license. It also requires background checks on the private sales of long guns. Current law requires background checks on long guns when bought through licensed dealers.
The law proposed by Del. Vanessa Atterbeary, D-Howard County, doesn’t specifically mandate the confiscation of weapons, a concern among opponents during a Monday hearing before the Maryland House of Delegates Judiciary Committee. But it does allow the Department of State Police to create regulations to carry out the law. Violators of the law would be guilty of a misdemeanor and have to pay a $10,000 fine and/or spend up to five years in jail.
Supporters say the bill could save lives by requiring background checks among private sellers. More oversight could mean keeping guns away from prohibited owners. That list includes people convicted of a crime of violence.
Great Mills High School senior Jaxon O’Mara said Lewis’ comments concerned her. She was in the overflow room when Lewis and other sheriffs addressed the crowd.
O’Mara was a friend of Jaelynn Willey, the 16-year-old who died after being shot at Great Mills on March 22. The shooter in that incident killed himself during the attack.
“I personally know the effects of gun violence in the community,” O’Mara said. “And to know there are police officers in the state … that are actively working against this common-sense legislation. It broke my heart.”
Lewis and other opponents to House Bill 786 said there isn’t enough crime with long guns to justify the sweeping legislation.
“We will not comply” was the rallying cry of dozens of opponents to House Bill 786 and other gun legislation before the Maryland House of Delegates Judiciary Committee. The committee held hours-long hearings on several different bills.
Lewis said his non-compliance stance is about safety.
Sending out officers to take guns away from law-abiding citizens will likely result in those citizens defending their rights and shooting the officers, Lewis said.
Law enforcement officers do temporarily confiscate guns at a judge’s order under Maryland’s red flag law. This means a judge signed an Extreme Risk Protective Order requiring the individual to give over weapons and ammunition. Gary J. Willis was killed in November by Anne Arundel County police after a struggle over his weapon. Police went to his home to remove weapons under the protective order.
That situation is different because a judge signed the order, Lewis said.
If House Bill 786 did pass, it would likely be months or years before it is implemented due to legal challenges. Harford County Sheriff Jeffrey R. Gahler said he supported challenging the legislation through legal channels. Gahler joined Lewis in opposition to the bill.
This is not the first time Lewis has made news with his opinions regarding gun rights. In 2014, he told reporters his office would never let the federal government confiscate weapons, stating it would lead to a civil war, according to the News21 interview. The federal government has not issued an order to confiscate citizens’ weapons.
Lewis likened his decision Baltimore State’s Attorney Marilyn Mosby announcement to stop prosecuting marijuana possession cases.
“Why can’t I make that decision when a law is passed,” Lewis said. “It won’t happen on my watch.”
©2019 The Capital (Annapolis, Md.)