Rep. Chris Van Hollen, a Democratic candidate for Senate, is pressing Republican Gov. Larry Hogan to use his executive power to stop people on the FBI's terrorist watch list from obtaining guns.
Echoing an issue Democrats have been pressing in Washington, Van Hollen wrote in his letter that "Tea Party obstructionism and the NRA" have blocked efforts to pass federal legislation. Instead, Van Hollen wrote, Hogan should "explore every possible state action to prevent dangerous individuals from purchasing guns in Maryland."
Van Hollen, a former state lawmaker who is running against Rep. Donna F. Edwards for the seat that will be left vacant by Sen. Barbara Mikulski in 2017, did not indicate whether he had also sent the letter to the state's Democratic legislative leaders.
Democrats have been pressing Republicans on the issue nationally since several GOP candidates for president have refused to endorse the idea.
Van Hollen and Edwards have both sought to tout their record promoting gun control in their high-profile Senate campaign.
Hogan dismissed Van Hollen's letter as "politics" and "silly."
"It's not an issue in Maryland," he said. "No one on any watch list has ever received a gun."
Maryland already performs comprehensive gun background checks that flag applicants on the federal no-fly list, Hogan spokesman Doug Mayer said. The Maryland State Police, who execute those checks, then contact the FBI to discuss the reasons someone is on the list.
To date, Mayer said, no one on the list has been approved to buy a firearm.
Still, the issue is likely to come up during the legislative session in Annapolis next year. A group of four lawmakers, all Democrats, have begun drafting a bill that would expressly prohibit people on FBI watch list from getting a concealed carry permit.
"If we wouldn't let them board a plane at BWI, why would we let them purchase a gun in our state?" said state Sen. Jamie Raskin of Montgomery County, who is also running for congress.
"We obviously can't stop every gun massacre in America but we can at least stop suspected terrorists from purchasing firearms in our own community. I know Congress is deadlocked on it, but that makes it essential for us to act in Maryland as soon as we get back to Annapolis," he said.
State Sen. Jim Rosapepe, of Prince George's County, and Dels. David Moon and Luke Clippinger are drafting the bill with Raskin. Moon is from Montgomery County; Clippinger is from Baltimore.
"If law enforcement officials believe someone is enough of a threat to be on a terrorism watch list, that person should not be allowed to buy the guns that can be used to turn that threat into a tragedy," said Clippinger, who works as a prosecutor. "That's just common sense."
Maryland State Police spokesman Greg Shipley said the department's licensing division has never come across a gun buyer who was on the federal watch list, but that it would show up during the background check.
"If that occurs, our policy is to immediately place a hold on the purchase application and contact the FBI and DHS (Department of Homeland Security). We have no intention of knowingly permitting a potential terrorist to purchase a firearm."
The bill would make that policy law, its sponsors said.
Connecticut Gov. Dan Malloy said this week he will sign an executive order prohibiting people on terrorism watch lists from buying firearms. New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, who is now running for the GOP presidential nomination, signed a similar law in 2013.