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Maryland loosens gun permit restrictions, despite recent mass shootings

ANNAPOLIS, Md. (Public News Service) – Maryland State Police announced this week that the state has lifted restrictions on concealed carry gun permits for business owners.

The restriction had limited business owners to carrying handguns only when on the job, or traveling to or from work.

With the policy change, they will now be able to switch to unrestricted permits that allow them to carry handguns at all times.

Liz Banach, director of the group Marylanders to Prevent Gun Violence, says she’s outraged at the timing of the new policy, as the nation reels from two mass shootings just days ago that left more than 30 people dead.

“Not only is it the wrong policy – it’s right in the aftermath of these two mass shootings in El Paso and Dayton,” she states. “To be doing this now is both tone-deaf and the wrong way to approach the issue of gun violence prevention.”

Backers of the change say business owners should be able to protect their workers and property.

Banach counters research indicates the more permissive policy could lead to more violence and unintentional shootings.

The Giffords Law Center to Prevent Gun Violence gave Maryland a grade of A-minus for its gun laws last year, ranking the state the fourth-strongest in the country.

Banach maintains Gov. Larry Hogan is undermining state gun-control efforts by staffing the Handgun Permit Review Board with National Rifle Association supporters, whom she says are more lenient in granting permits.

The governor, a Republican, also seems to be aligning on gun rights with the Trump administration, which has eased gun restrictions and reversed an Obama-era regulation that restricted gun purchases for people with some types of mental impairment.

“Gov. Hogan right now has the ability to stand up against that and say that’s wrong,” Banach states. “And instead of doing that, his Maryland State Police are eroding and loosening our standards.”

In 2017, Maryland had 742 firearm-related deaths, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

In the 2019 legislative session, the General Assembly advanced its gun control laws by banning bump stocks and other rapid-fire trigger activators.

Reporting by Diane Bernard


Despite red flag law, Indiana gun restrictions “relatively weak”

INDIANAPOLIS – More than 900 people each year in Indiana are killed with guns, and some experts say the state’s gun laws are relatively weak in terms of restrictions.

The state bars people with a record of domestic violence from purchasing or possessing guns and requires retail handgun dealers to obtain a license.

But Indiana legislators could be doing much more, says Laura Cutilletta, managing director of the Giffords Law Center to Prevent Gun Violence.

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Her organization keeps track of gun legislation passed in each state and ranks states on an annual scorecard.

“Indiana, every year, has not fared well in our scorecard,” Cutilletta states. “It receives a D-minus. And the reason for that is because it really has very few laws on the books to curb gun violence.”

In Congress, Republican Rep. Susan Brooks of Indiana has pointed out that Indiana has a so-called red flag law, enacted in 2005, which allows police to temporarily take guns away from people who are believed to be a danger to themselves or others.

Still, guns are the second leading cause of death for children in Indiana.

And from 2013 to 2017, more than 1,000 people under age 25 lost their lives in gun incidents.

Cutilletta has a list of possibilities she says state lawmakers could start working on to curb gun violence.

“Like require background checks between private parties, or prohibit assault weapons, or large-capacity magazines, or require a license for firearm ownership,” she states. “And a host of other things that it could do.”

Indiana currently has no law regulating military-grade assault weapons.

Cutilletta notes the federal ban on assault weapons expired in 2004. Since then, Congress has failed to renew it.

Reporting by Nadia Ramlagan


Explosion sparks calls for more pipeline scrutiny

PHILADELPHIA – Environmental groups say an explosion earlier this week at a pump station along the Mariner East 2 gas pipeline highlights regulatory flaws and lack of oversight of the project.

The explosion Monday at the Boot Road Pump Station shook homes and rattled windows half a mile away.

Sunoco, the owner of the pipeline, said it was a “backfire,” similar to a car backfiring, that there was no release of liquid and no danger to the public.

But Joseph Minott, executive director and chief counsel at the Clean Air Council, calls Mariner East 2 the “poster child” for what’s wrong with the way the Commonwealth deals with pipelines.

“The building out of natural gas infrastructure in Pennsylvania is not being monitored properly, it’s not being permitted properly, it’s not being regulated properly,” he states.

Sunoco says the pipeline meets or exceeds both state and federal pipeline safety regulations.

Minott points out that the cause and consequences of the explosion are still being investigated. Meanwhile, he contends regulators are telling residents that the gas infrastructure is good for the state while leaving several important questions unanswered.

“Does the pipeline benefit Pennsylvania?” Minott wonders. “Is the pipeline being done in a safe way? Does the pipeline protect communities and residents? None of that is being done in Pennsylvania.”

Minott adds that pipeline construction has been halted several times by state authorities and drilling has resulted in mud spills and numerous citations for environmental violations.

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Less than a week earlier, a gas pipeline explosion in Kentucky killed one person and injured at least five others.

Minott insists state agencies and the fossil fuel industry need to stop telling people that pipelines are a safe way to transport a highly explosive product.

“It’s not true,” he stresses. It “is not safe, and communities need to be told the truth. And we’re finding out just how unsafe these pipelines are.”

The Clean Air Council has called on Gov. Tom Wolf and the Public Utility Commission to shut down the Mariner East pipelines.

Reporting by Andrea Sears


Development destroys U.S. landscapes at alarming rate

ST. PAUL, Minn. – The U.S. is losing its wild landscape to energy, transportation, agriculture, and urbanization at a rate of two football fields per minute, according to new research sounding alarms about what it means for future generations – especially in light of climate change.

The first comprehensive study of the lower 48 states shows how human modification is causing the loss and fragmentation of natural lands at an alarming rate, according to biologist and study author Brett Dickson, president of Conservation Science Partners.

He says Minnesota lost nearly 700,000 acres of natural lands from 2001 to 2017 – about 400,000 to urbanization.

“This eating away of some of the last wild places in the U.S. – I mean the places that offer our recreation and hunting opportunities, provide us with clean drinking water, space for wildlife to roam and to persist – there is a loss that we can’t replace,” he states.

Dickson says some states are losing natural landscapes at higher rates than others.

Minnesota was 13th on the list among the lower 48 states losing significant natural landscapes. North Dakota topped the list.

According to Dickson, satellite data shows over the same 16-year period, North Dakota lost 2.4 million acres of its natural lands.

“It’s energy infrastructure and the expansion of the oil and gas fields in North Dakota that is just incredible to see,” he states. “And the visual is compelling but troubling.”

Dickson worries that America is losing part of its soul with the loss of natural landscapes, especially in the West. He maintains people need to be more engaged to prevent even greater land losses.

“We can be smarter about where change happens, and maybe even when it happens,” he stresses. “And these kinds of data are one of the best vehicles we have for making better decisions about urbanization, about transportation, about agriculture.”

The Center for American Progress, which commissioned the study, advocates for protecting 30% of all U.S. lands and oceans by 2030 to maintain ecological stability.

Reporting by Roz Brown

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