Gun petition going down to the wire

Proponents of putting Maryland's new gun law to referendum plan to wait until Friday's midnight deadline to deliver their first round of signatures. And they may wait until Saturday night to tell the public the results.

Sue Payne, the Montgomery County woman leading the effort, has said she is too busy to talk as she works to compile more than 18,500 signatures due today in order to keep the referendum effort alive. 

Payne has said from the beginning of her campaign that she launched Free State Petitions "on a wing and a prayer" and that collecting all the signatures would be a challenge. She has said that she plans to wait until the last minute to turn in her signatures. More than two dozen gun shops have agreed to act as gathering points for the petition, which is controversial in the gun-rights community.

Several gun-rights activists and leadership in the Republican caucus have urged people to instead support the anticipated court challenge to the new law. 

The law bans the sale of assault weapons, limits magazines to 10 bullets and creates a new licensing system for handguns. It will take effect Oct. 1 unless stopped by a petition drive or a court challenge, which the National Rifle Association has promised.

Payne has relied, in part, on guidance from Republican Del. Patrick L. McDonough to launch the petition drive. McDonough said this morning that Payne intends to continue with her plan to deliver signatures close to midnight.

Payne is also scheduled to be a guest on McDonough's radio show at 8 p.m. Saturday on WCBM 680 AM. In a promotion for the appearance, McDonough said Payne will reveal the total number of signatures gathered, as well as "make a surprising announcement that has statewide implications in the political arena."

McDonough declined to elaborate and said he had "no clue" how many signatures had already been gathered. 

Payne did not return several calls seeking comment between Thursday afternoon and Friday morning. Neither she nor Free State Petitions have scheduled any public announcements about their effort.

A separate campaign attempting to overturn the repeal of the death penalty has scheduled a Friday afternoon event to announce their progress. One prosecutor involved with the effort said Thursday that the group was behind its goals.