Baltimore Sun's Conservative Blog Uses Columbia Mall Shooting To Hype Gun Myths

In the wake of the January 25 shooting at the Columbia Mall in Columbia, Maryland, that claimed the lives of two victims, the Baltimore Sun's recently acquired conservative political blog made a series of inaccurate statements on firearms and firearms laws to attack supporters of stronger gun laws, including recently enacted measures strengthening firearms laws in Maryland. 

In a blog post on the Baltimore Sun's Red Maryland blog, Mark Newgent criticized a statement by Vinny DeMarco, the president of Marylanders to Prevent Gun Violence and a supporter of a measure strengthening firearms laws in Maryland, who explained that without Maryland's new firearms law -- which banned assault weapons and limited the purchase of high-capacity ammunition magazines -- the shooting could have been worse. However, in his criticism of the release, Newgent got several points wrong:

  • Newgent claimed “shotguns don't use magazines to hold ammunition” and explained that making that error was akin to “saying football is played with a hockey puck.” In fact, there are several shotguns that accept magazines, including this one from Kel-Tec or this one from Saiga which has a “30 round drum magazine.”
  • Newgent wrote that DeMarco's use of the words “AK-47” and “assault weapon” were designed to put the image of a fully automatic machine gun in the mind of the reader." However, “assault weapon” was the exact term the gun industry used up until 2009 when describing military-style semi-automatic rifles such as the AK-47. In 2009, the industry attempted to rebrand the term assault weapon to “modern sporting rifle” due to concerns that President Obama's election would prompt legislation regulating these types of weapons. 
  • Newgent incorrectly claimed that the 1934 National Firearms Act bans fully automatic weapons, which are commonly called machine guns. In fact, as popular gun retailer Cheaper Than Dirt highlighted in a post on owning automatic weapons, they are legal to own but must be approved by local authorities. After submitting a signed form by the local authorities to the ATF along with a $200 tax stamp, applicants undergo a series of background checks and their fingerprints are run through various databases. Once the application is approved and filed, the owner of the weapon will legally possess the weapon. Maryland allows ownership of automatic weapons as long as it is legally registered.

Lastly, Newgent criticized the fact that Maryland's gun laws did nothing to stop the shooter from bringing in “improvised explosive devices.” As the Washington Post reported, the shooter not only had a shotgun but also what authorities described as “two crude devices that seemed to be an attempt to use fireworks to make explosives.” While the state law does not discuss explosive devices, they are illegal under federal law.