Gov. Parris Glendening ordered a ban on outdoor shooting in four counties Tuesday in an effort to cut down on reports of gunshots that could distract police from their investigation of sniper killings in the area.
The 30-day ban in Montgomery, Prince George's, Anne Arundel and Howard counties comes during the small-game hunting season, and on the eve of the muzzleloader deer season that was scheduled to begin Thursday.
The governor issued the executive order in response to requests from executives in the four counties, his office said. The ban does not apply to private, approved shooting ranges in those counties.
"Police were responding to reports about gunshots and it's just people having target practice in their backyards," said Raquel Guillory, a spokeswoman for Glendening.
Glendening called it a "temporary action" that can save law enforcement "valuable time as they work to bring those responsible for these terrible crimes to justice."
Guillory said the 30-day order will be renewed if the need is there in mid-November.
Gun enthusiasts were outraged by the order, questioning its usefulness and constitutionality.
"The only purpose this serves is to make people ever more fearful," said Sanford Abrams, vice president of the Maryland Firearms Dealers Association.
Abrams questioned the legality of the order, saying he knows of no law or clause in the state Constitution that grants Glendening this amount of power.
He also said the four counties in question are largely urban, and noted that it is already illegal to fire a gun in urban areas. Hunters who do hunt in those counties "are going to be 30 miles away from where all the shootings are being done," he said.
The order does nothing to stop the sniper, but does hurt the hunters who have paid $25 to $30 in licensing fees, Abrams said.
A spokesman for the Maryland Department of Natural Resources said he could not recall such an order being issued in the state, but said the department will send messages to all license agents in the state about the new ban.
Maryland Natural Resources Police will also tell the 45,000 hunters who registered for the upcoming muzzleloader season to respect the ban and watch for illegal hunting, said John Surrick, the spokesman.
Surrick said he could not predict how long the ban might be in place, but that the deer population will increase the longer the ban is in effect.
"If there are no deer firearm seasons it will have a significant impact on the population," Surrick said.
Growing deer herds have become a particular problem in suburban counties like the four affected by the ban, he said.
"They do have a growing deer population and [the deer] are becoming an increasing problem," Surrick said.
Managed deer hunts scheduled to begin Nov. 4 in Montgomery County will be canceled due to the ban, Surrick said. A second statewide firearm season, scheduled to run Nov. 30 to Dec. 14, would only be affected if the ban is renewed, and only in the four counties, Surrick said.
Last year, 2,710 deer were killed during muzzleloader season in the four counties. Another 4,323 deer were killed in the four counties during other deer firearm seasons, Surrick said.
Abrams said police will not be helped by the ban. Whether it is a balloon popping or an engine backfiring, people who hear any noise "are going to call the police," he said.
But Anne Arundel County Executive Janet Owens said in a prepared statement that the ban would help curb police distraction from the sniper attacks.
"We need to provide as much support for our officers as possible," she said. "It is important that there be no confusion at the sound of gunfire."
The sniper attacks, which began on Oct. 2, have killed nine people and wounded two others in Maryland, Virginia and Washington, D.C.