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A new gun law went into effect today in Maryland and it's one of the strictest in the nation. The law bans more than 40 assault rifles and makes it harder to get handguns. Challengers are still fighting the law in court.
As Jacob Fenston reports, the law has also had an unintended effect: Record gun sales over the summer.
JACOB FENSTON, BYLINE: Maryland's new gun law bans assault rifles and high-capacity magazines, and it makes the state one of only six to require people buying handguns to get fingerprinted and take gun safety courses. Gun owners aren't happy, and in recent weeks, they've been flocking to snap up firearms.
On Monday, outside Fred's Sporting Goods in Waldorf, Maryland, there was a huge crowd and a countdown sign advertising: 1 Day Left.
UNIDENTIFIED MAN #1: Sixty-eight, come on down.
UNIDENTIFIED MAN #2: Seventy-eight, and we've been waiting here for over an hour now.
LESLIE CATES: I'm here purchasing a handgun today.
UNIDENTIFIED MAN #3: For home protection.
UNIDENTIFIED MAN #4: A gun for my wife.
UNIDENTIFIED MAN #5: Assault rifle.
FENSTON: Gun owner Leslie Cates says the law is just a lot of bureaucratic nonsense.
CATES: I want to be able to own and have what I like and what I want. And I don't feel like the government should be able to tell me what I can and can't have and how I have to get it.
FENSTON: Shopper Gary Gilroy says the new law infringes on his rights.
GARY GILROY: I think it's unconstitutional. I think it's against the Second Amendment.
FENSTON: Store owner Joe Herbert says he was ready for the onslaught of customers ahead of the deadline.
JOE HERBERT: I got full staff for the last week and a half, been working overtime.
FENSTON: He says he can't keep his shelves stocked. In recent weeks he's done about five times as many sales as usual. And it's been like this all over the state.
SERGEANT MARC BLACK: We're working 21 hours a day, seven days a week.
FENSTON: Sergeant Marc Black, spokesperson with the Maryland State Police; that's the organization responsible for processing background checks. He says this is an unprecedented surge in gun purchases.
BLACK: As of September 20th, we're looking at over 106,000 applications.
FENSTON: That's more than double the number for all of 2011.
The rush on firearms started after the school shooting in Newtown, Connecticut, when President Obama started pushing Congress to tighten federal gun laws. That didn't happen, but in Maryland, lawmakers got behind state legislation.
Democratic state Senator Brian Frosh.
STATE SENATOR BRIAN FROSH: People felt that we had to do something. And I think we ended up doing something that will save thousands of lives in our state. It's not perfect but I think we've addressed, in a evidence-based manner, the public health problem that we have in this country.
FENSTON: In addition to putting in place strict fingerprint licensing requirements, the law empowers state police to inspect gun dealers and punish those not following the law. These are two of the most effective steps a state can take to reduce gun violence, according to Daniel Webster. He directs the Center for Gun Policy and Research at Johns Hopkins University.
DANIEL WEBSTER: When states have these two critical pieces, they have far fewer guns that are diverted to criminals.
FENSTON: Gun rights supporters haven't given up fighting the new law. They've filed two federal lawsuits, backed by the NRA. The plaintiffs declined to comment for this story.
Back at Fred's Sporting Goods, store owner Joe Herbert is no fan of the new law, but he isn't too worried about business.
HERBERT: Business will still go on. Handguns will still be sold. The biggest thing is the AR is going to be banned.
FENSTON: The AR-15, a top-selling assault rifle and the weapon used by the shooter in Newtown. It's now illegal in Maryland. His customers will adapt, he says, and so will he.
HERBERT: There's other sporting rifles that are very, very similar which will still be legal.
FENSTON: And customers who put in an order by the deadline yesterday will still be able to pick up weapons banned today.
For NPR News, I'm Jacob Fenston.
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