Pro-gun lawmakers want to dismantle the licensing components of the governor’s sweeping gun-control proposal, but a new poll shows that such measures have overwhelming popular support.
The Senate Judicial Proceedings Committee was poised to consider amendments and vote on the measure late Thursday — after The Gazette deadline — and Republican members of the panel were prepared to offer numerous amendments aimed at eliminating licensing and changing what is considered to be an assault weapon.
Meanwhile, a poll released Wednesday found that 81 percent of Marylanders supported requiring handgun purchasers to obtain a license, which would include fingerprinting, a criminal background check and safety training. Opposition stood at 13 percent, according to the poll.
The statewide poll, which surveyed 974 voters, was conducted by the Annapolis-based OpinionWorks on behalf of the nonprofit Marylanders to Prevent Gun Violence.
Gov. Martin O’Malley (D) has proposed requiring digital fingerprinting, eight hours of safety training and a $100 fee in order to get a handgun license, a measure intended to keep guns out of the hands of criminals by discouraging straw purchases in which an individual with a clean record buys a gun for someone who couldn’t pass a background check.
Gun-rights supporter Sen. Nancy Jacobs (R-Dist. 34) of Abingdon, who sits on the Judicial Proceedings Committee, said she and her colleagues will attempt to strike down the licensing provision — in part because experienced gun users don’t need a full day of redundant safety training.
Jacobs acknowledged that supporters and opponents of the governor’s plan may be able to find some common ground on the licensing provisions.
The proposed fee also has drawn fire from critics like Sen. E.J. Pipkin (R-Dist. 36) of Elkton, who has argued that only the rich will be able to afford handguns for their protection.
Gun-control advocate Sarah Brady, whose husband, James, was shot during the 1981 assassination attempt on President Ronald Reagan, told The Gazette on Wednesday that she hoped O'Malley’s bill would help set a standard for national law.
“The federal government is always 10 steps behind states like Maryland,” Brady said.
While opposition to such measures from gun-rights advocates such as the National Rifle Association often attract a lot of media attention, they represent only a small section of the population, Brady said.
“We’re not talking about equal sides here,” she said, “[but] they’re presented as the other half.”
O’Malley’s proposed ban on assault weapons covers a number of specific semiautomatic pistols and rifles, as well as “copycat” weapons with certain features similar to the other banned guns, such as a grenade launchers, telescoping stocks or stocks with thumbholes.
But some of those features can be found on rifles used for hunting and target shooting and don’t make the weapons more powerful, Jacobs said. Telescoping stocks, which adjust the length of the gun to fit properly against the user’s shoulder, are needed for some shooters, such as small-framed women, to use rifles, Jacobs said.
The same is true of thumbhole stocks, which enable the shooter to get a better grip on the gun, take pressure off the shoulder and improve stability, all particularly important for women, Jacobs said.
Supporters of the governor’s plan, including Sen. Brian E. Frosh (D-Dist. 16) of Chevy Chase, anticipate a long process of amendment and debate.
“They’ll try to strip out each component of the bill,” Frosh said Tuesday of opponents, adding that he expected to see amendments to reduce the fee and the amount of training and tweak the weapons ban criteria.
Frosh said one of his own bills, which tightens regulations on gun dealers, is likely to be folded into the governor’s bill.
The committee is likely to sign off on the proposal, which then will face many additional amendments when it is debated by the full Senate, said Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller Jr. (D-Dist 27) of Chesapeake Beach.
Miller has said he expects the assault weapons ban to pass his chamber, but that the licensing provisions, particularly the fingerprinting, will be a tougher sell.
As proposed, O’Malley’s bill also would prohibit gun ownership by anyone committed to a mental health facility, voluntarily or involuntarily, for 30 consecutive days or more and would increase data-sharing and crisis resources for mental illness.
But O’Malley is considering a stronger prohibition, which would bar gun ownership by anyone involuntarily committed for any length of time.
Staff writer Holly Nunn contributed to this report.