It's probably going to be considered heresy for left-winger to get a Handgun Qualification License. But I'm getting one. I'm looking at getting a single-action revolver to shoot balloons with blanks from the back of my horse. My father is one of the top cowboy western action shooters in the country so he'll embarrass me if I go head-to-head with him.
Maryland requires anyone purchasing a handgun to get a "Handgun Qualification License" aka an HQL. The process consists if taking a 4-hour class, firing a handgun with the instructor, getting fingerprinted, and applying for the license. A few people are exempt from needing the license (mostly police and recognized security employees) and a number of people are exempt from the training (including honorably discharged vets). I am a vet so I did not have to take the class but I did anyway. It covers some safety which I had from the Marines but also covered Maryland specific rules which was good.
In general, the process was not much of a hindrance and I believe provided good information. The fingerprints are used for verification and not kept on file. In fact, you have 72 hours from when the prints are taken until you apply so don't get your prints more than a day or two before you take the class. The class is available for $20 (with a complimentary $25 gift card to the hosting range), the license fee is $50, and the prints are $70.
Overall the class was okay but had room for improvement. The instructor had a great deal of experience and expertise. He spent some time discussing revolvers vs semi-automatic pistols and some basic safety issues (keep your finger off the trigger until you're ready to shoot!) He discussed some of the weapons banned in Maryland and particular laws governing how firearms must be stored, transported, and transferred. It was good I attended; I would have violate laws walking into the police barracks and been arrested on the spot - or at least suffered a severe tongue-lashing.
Unfortunately, he veered off into NRA misinformation, propaganda, and false statements. At the start, he made a big issue out of how laws restricting the purchase of firearms did not reduce crime. He showed murder rate statistics from Virginia, Maryland, and DC. Virginia was much lower. He attributed all of the difference to Virginia's fewer restrictions on gun purchases. He made no comments about social issues which may drive murder rates. He also had something like 12 murders per 100,000 residents for Maryland. The figures I'm finding are 6.4 for Maryland, 14 for DC, and 4 for Virginia (the last two are similar to his).
Related to the above, he stated the Handgun Qualification License was primarily an attempt to discourage legal ownership of pistols. As noted, the cost and inconvenience are minimal. In his class, he gave examples of people improperly holding a pistol which hurt the shooter or would have if it had not been corrected. The classes hold about 50 people and are booked up several weeks out. I don't think the HQL requirement is preventing any citizen from legally purchasing a handgun. In fact, the classes would be good for the purchase of any firearm. In the class, the instructor spent several minutes relaying a story of a lady who purchased the wrong shotgun and injured herself using it after refusing to take a class. 'Good material for a shotgun class.
The only use for a handgun he discussed was protection - no mention of hunting, target shooting, or western action shooting. He stated a firearm is a great equalizer. He implied a woman would be safe from a domestic abuser if she had a firearm to protect her. He neglected to point out a woman is five time more likely to be killed in an abusive household with a firearm in it. He also did not instruct the women in the class to kill the partner she stops by brandishing a firearm. If she does not kill him when she has the chance, the next time they argue, he will get the gun first.
He also quoted Admiral Yamamoto as saying, "You cannot invade mainland United States. There would be a rifle behind each blade of grass." Five minutes of research reveals this to be fabricated. No evidence has been uncovered to attribute this to Yamamoto Yamamoto did advise senior politicians and military leaders that a victory would require a complete invasion of the US and a march on Washington but went on to indicate he did not think Japan had the resources or resolve to accomplish the feat from a purely military standpoint.
If the 45 minutes of false and misleading propaganda had been left out of the course, the instructor would have had more time to discuss various types of handguns, ways to enjoy a handgun without planning on killing someone, more discussion on how to use a handgun for defense, more discussion of how to avoid needing to use a handgun for defense, and/or more information on how to maintain a handgun.
I recommend two changes:
1. Split the licensing into two parts - one for firearms in general and one for each type of firearm (i.e. rifles, shotguns, handguns). The core should be general information about Maryland law, safe firearm handling, range etiquette and rules, and general firearm knowledge. Each component could then spend an hour discussing selection of a firearm, usage of the firearm, and live firing. It could even be done online with a photo or video of the applicant firing the firearm under the control of a licensed person. Allowing someone without the proper license to use your firearm would be a serious misdemeanor or felony.
2. Review the course material to remove inaccurate, misleading, and flat out false information. Hold the instructors accountable and have a feedback system to the Maryland State Police.