Health & Family

Maryland community activist to share strategy for getting laws passed

Vincent DeMarco, a Maryland lawyer and community activist credited with advancing successful gun violence prevention laws and other public health measures in that state, will speak in Charlotte April 7 during National Public Health Week.

As part of his free talk, “Transforming Public Will Into Political Power,” he will outline his six-step strategy, which is the subject of a 2010 book, “The DeMarco Factor,” by Michael Pertschuk, former Federal Trade Commission chairman under President Jimmy Carter.

DeMarco has helped organize efforts that led most recently to a “handgun purchaser licensing law” that requires buyers to provide fingerprints to law enforcement. He had previously led a successful effort in 1994 to pass a law limiting gun sales to no more than one per month in Maryland. He also helped engineer a 2011 increase in Maryland’s alcohol tax (the first in 40 years) and multiple increases in the state’s cigarette tax, from 36 cents to 66 cents per pack in 1999, to $1 in 2002 and $2 in 2007.

As a result, he said, Maryland’s adult smoking rate has dropped by 32 percent – almost twice the national decline of 19 percent – over the past 15 years, resulting in “over 70,000 lives saved,” he said. Maryland’s teen smoking rate has dropped by 40 percent.

“That’s really a public health victory that couldn’t have happened without coalition building,” DeMarco said. “Over the years, we’ve developed a template that works very well.”

The template encompasses six steps, starting with “a smart plan based on strong data.” The next steps involve polling to assess public support, building a strong coalition of civic groups, spreading the message through media coverage, getting endorsements from candidates for elective office, and pushing for legislative action.

“That’s my message,” DeMarco said. “If you do these things, you can overcome even the most powerful vested interests. The process isn’t easy. It takes a lot of work and resources, but it can be done.”