MILLER: A scarlet letter for guns

Prince George’s public registry shows county’s priorities are misdirected

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Lawmakers  in Prince George’s County, Md. hate guns so much they want to brand  anyone convicted of violating one of the state’s convoluted firearm  statutes. Stab someone with a knife, and the county won’t care or take  notice of you after you serve your time. Sell a handgun that’s not on  the state’s list of approved firearms, and the Washington suburb will  mark you as a criminal and hold you up to public ridicule.

Beginning  July 27, anyone convicted of a gun offense in the county must register  with the chief of police. The person will be required to provide a  description of the crime, conviction date, home and work address and  other “identifying factors.” The offender is then forced to check in  with the registry every six months for at least three years. The county  council, which voted unanimously for the ordinance last month, said the  purpose was to help the police “track repeat offenders” and “assist in  subsequent investigations.”

Maryland’s  attorney general ruled in late June that the list must also be made  public. A spokesman for Prince George’s County Executive Rushern L.  Baker III said they are “working through the process” on how to make it  publicly available. County politicians studied neighboring Baltimore  city and District of Columbia gun offenders registries when drafting the  legislation. The Baltimore list was upended in 2011 when a circuit  court ruled that the law creating it was “unconstitutionally vague and  overly broad.”

The D.C. city council started its list in 2009 after the  Supreme Court forced Washington to end its 30-year handgun ban. The list  is supposed to be an internal tool for the Metropolitan Police  Department (MPD) to monitor offenders, though the police are allowed to  share the list with any federal, state or local government agency.

As  an example of how ridiculous these registries can be, former Army  Specialist Adam Meckler, a veteran of both the wars in Iraq and  Afghanistan, is branded a convicted criminal on the D.C. list because he  absent-mindedly left 14 rounds of 9mm in his bag when he went from his  Virginia home to a VFW in the city. He committed no other crime and had  no gun with him. Spc. Meckler, who has an otherwise spotless record,  said that being photographed and fingerprinted was humiliating and made  him feel as if he “was registering as a sex offender.”

The  number of people swept up by such lists is considerable. According to  an internal MPD database, there have been 1,726 people arrested in D.C.  since 2009 for unregistered firearms, which was the top charge for 366  of them. In that same period, there have been 2,258 people charged with  unregistered ammunition and 197 of those were the top charge. None of  these people would have been arrested or branded a few miles away in  Virginia because nothing they did is considered a crime.

Though  not as bad as the District, Maryland’s gun laws ignore the meaning of  the Second Amendment. A federal judge recently ruled the state’s de  facto ban on concealed carry unconstitutional. Instead of finding new  ways to stigmatize gun owners, Prince George’s County should focus on  balancing its budget by cutting wasteful spending — starting by  eliminating this useless registry.

Emily Miller is a senior editor for the Opinion pages at The Washington Times.
 

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