The Maryland Senate voted 28-19 to approve a far-reaching proposal aimed at reducing gun violence Thursday, and the House version of the legislation faces a committee hearing Friday afternoon.
House Speaker Michael E. Busch (D-Dist. 30) of Annapolis said Thursday that the House version of the bill likely will end up comparable to the Senate bill, and a controversial licensing requirement will face similar opposition.
Busch said the bill could land on the House floor by next week, but cautioned that the process was always more laborious on the House side because of its larger membership.
Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller Jr. (D-Dist. 27) of Chesapeake Beach also didn't anticipate major changes to the bill in the House. The amended version of the bill, which was sponsored by Gov. Martin O’Malley (D), was approved by the Senate after more than 15 hours of debate over three days and despite opposition from all of the chamber’s Republicans and several Democrats.
As amended, the bill includes a ban on so-called assault weapons, which include a number of semiautomatic rifles, pistols and “copycat weapons,” and a new licensing requirement for future handgun purchases that will including fingerprinting, a licensing fee and several hours of safety training.
The proposed assault-weapons ban mirrors the federal ban that was in effect from 1994 to 2004.
Miller, who voted in favor of the bill, softened his opposition to the fingerprinting requirement this week after hearing how many Marylanders currently were required do so.
“It gives the bill teeth,” Miller said Thursday. “[But] we require schoolteachers to get fingerprints, we require nurses to give fingerprints.”
Senators opposed to the measure argued that the licensing violated the Second Amendment by placing undue restrictions on the right to gun ownership — a charge rejected by supporters — and that the state didn’t have the resources to accommodate the requirement.
Senate Minority Leader E.J. Pipkin (R-Dist. 36) of Elkton argued that Maryland didn’t have enough shooting ranges to accommodate the proposed live-firing requirement of a handgun license.
“This is a gun ban, not gun control,” Pipkin said.
Supporters such as Sen. Brian E. Frosh, a co-sponsor of the bill, defended the requirement. Frosh argued that it has helped reduce straw purchases in other states, such as New Jersey and Massachusetts, and has yet to be found unconstitutional in those jurisdictions.
Keeping the guns out of the hands of criminals was particularly important to Sen. Nathaniel J. McFadden (D-Dist. 45) of Baltimore, who said that while mass shootings, like the one in Newtown, Conn., late last year tended to get the most headlines, gun violence was a daily occurrence in his city.
“Is this a perfect bill? No. But it’s a step that I think we need to take,” McFadden said. “We don’t produce and make guns in East Baltimore or West Baltimore, but they come from somewhere and you can get a gun quicker than you can get an apple or orange in my community,” he said.
Key provisions of the bill passed by the Senate:
•The fee for a handgun license drops from $100, as initially proposed, to $25, and the training requirement drops from eight hours to four hours. Handgun licenses would need to be renewed every 10 years, rather than every five years, as was proposed at first.
•Active and retired law enforcement and military personnel are not required to obtain handgun licenses. And those who have taken approved classroom training courses within the three years prior to applying, or approved live-fire training courses within the 10 years prior to applying, do not need to get additional training in order to be licensed.
•Assault weapons, defined as certain semiautomatic weapons, and high-capacity magazine clips are banned, as are so-called “copycat” weapons built to resemble other banned weapons. The bill allows guns that have one “copycat” feature, such as a pistol grip, telescoping stock or flash suppressor, but not two. Thumbhole stocks, which enable a shooter to get a better grip on a gun and take pressure off the shoulder, would no longer be considered “copycat” features.
•Anyone who has been involuntarily committed to a mental health treatment facility for any length of time or has been voluntarily committed after being declared dangerous to themselves or others through an emergency petition process may not own a firearm. However, those people can petition the state to have the restriction lifted.
•Any assault weapon purchased lawfully before the proposed ban takes effect Oct. 1 can be kept, but must be registered with Maryland State Police by the end of the year. Those who fail to register weapons could face civil penalties that increase each year up to $1,000 per firearm.