If you hate Maryland's new gun law and wish you could vote against it, Sue Payne is looking for you.
The Montgomery County woman this week filed paperwork with the Board of Elections to petition the controversial new gun-control bill to referendum. She said she bought a web domain, lined up a web designer to create a digital system for distributing petitions and is now looking for someone to take over the operation, which she calls Free State Petitions.
“I will turn over the language to whoever wants to come and do this under the banner of Free State Petitions so that the citizens of the state can have a voice,” Payne said Friday.
Her efforts come in what she sees as a vacuum of leadership.
The voices most active in Maryland's gun control debate, which drew record crowds to Annapolis, decided against petitioning the law. Instead, several gun groups rallied to support an NRA-backed lawsuit that challenges in court the constitutionality of the assault weapons ban and a new fingerprinting and licensing scheme for handguns.
Payne said she became frustrated when mdpetitions.org, the group led by Western Maryland Republican Del. Neil Parrot that helped petition three other laws to referendum, decided against collecting signatures for a ballot measure on the gun law.
"A lobbying group and a bunch of other groups say, no, no, no, it's not going to be put to a vote?" Payne said. "That's not their right to say that. It's the right of the voters to say that."
If the language Payne submitted is approved - as of Friday, officials were haggling over font size - she would seek someone to mount a campaign to collect 55,736 valid signatures by the end of June. More than 18,000 of those must be given to election officials by May 31.
Gov. Martin O'Malley is expected next month to sign the law that bans the sale of 45 types of assault weapons, requires fingerprints and a license to buy a handgun as well as limits magazines to 10 rounds, among other provisions. It is scheduled to take effect Oct. 1, and it is among the toughest new laws in the wake of the Newton, Conn., shooting that killed 27 people.
A successful petition would put the law on hold until after the Nov. 2014 election.
Earlier this month, the NRA, several gun groups and Parrott announced they would fight the law in courts, arguing a Second Amendment right shouldn't be up for a popular vote.
NRA President David Keene said earlier this week that a pending referendum vote would interfere with the lawsuit his gun-rights group planned to file.
Payne questions whether the state legislature overreached when it required licenses for new handgun purchases, but she also questions whether the NRA and Parrott's group should get to decide whether a petition effort exists.
"I don't like what I'm seeing here, and I wanted the process to be more transparent," Payne said. "I wanted the process to be yes, if you live in the state of Maryland, you have the right to petition a law to referendum."
Patrick Shomo, president Maryland Shall Issue, was among the gun-rights leaders who cautioned against a petition effort and made the announcement the law should be fought in courts instead.
"No one in that room was telling anyone else not to petition it," Shomo said Friday. "We just don't think it's a good idea. It's not that it just wasn't a good idea for us, it's not a good idea for anyone who wants to stop the law. ... But welcome to the republic. People can do what they want to do."
Exactly who may step forward to back Free State Petitions is unclear.
Del. Patrick McDonough, a Baltimore County Republican instrumental in 2011 effort that petitioned a law to referendum for the first time in 20 decades, on Thursday vowed to "very strongly and very vigorously" help the Free State Petition effort.
But McDonough said he would not spearhead the gun law referendum, in part because he needed to focus on his own reelection campaign and "you can't serve two masters."
McDonough played a key role in the petition drive to put a law granting in-state tuition for some illegal immigrants onto the 2012 ballot. Voters upheld it. He said voters should have the same choice for the gun law.
"The idea that this is a constitutional right and shouldn't be addressed by the unwashed hands of the public is nonsense," McDonough said. "It is a constitutional right, and we should use all constitutionally available means to fight for it."