After eight hours of debate Friday in the packed chambers of the House Judiciary Committee, a joint committee voted 27-18 to pass a bill that will mandate wide-reaching regulations on gun dealers and would-be gun owners.
The bill, sponsored by Gov. Martin O’Malley and announced in the early days of the session, has already passed the Senate and has brought some of the biggest crowds of the 2013 session to testify and protest.
Further debate on the bill in the House was expected to begin on Tuesday afternoon.
While most of the roughly 20 amendments adopted by the joint committee were technical or made fixes to problematic parts of the bill, a few were significant.
One is a requirement for gun owners to report — within 72 hours— when a regulated firearm is lost or stolen. Another prohibits those who receive probation before judgement when accused of violent crimes from owning regulated firearms. The panel also doubled the licensing fee set by the Senate, to $50 from $25.
“The changes made the Senate bill stronger in some significant ways,” said Vincent DeMarco, president of Marylanders to Prevent Gun Violence.
The bill, as passed by the Senate, requires a license fee and fingerprinting for handgun permits, as well as four hours of training. Some semiautomatic weapons, dubbed “assault weapons,” and copycat weapons designed to look like banned weapons, would also be banned. In addition, the bill gives the Maryland State Police the authority to audit gun dealers.
High-capacity magazine clips would also be banned, and individuals previously involuntarily committed to a mental health facility, found incompetent to stand trial or under legal guardianship due to mental or fiduciary reasons, are prohibited from owning a firearm.
Another provision added by the committee will allow anyone who puts in a verifiable order for an assault weapon between now and Oct. 1, when the bill goes into effect, to be grandfathered in.
“We’re going to flood the state with assault weapons and then declare victory on October 1,” said Del. Luiz R.S. Simmons (D-Dist. 17) of Rockville, speaking in opposition to the provision and estimating that 100,000 to 150,000 assault rifles will be in the state by the time the ban begins.
The most interesting part of the debate came when the joint committee passed, by a vote of 24-21, an amendment that would have prohibited those serving time for gun-related offenses from reducing the amount of time they spend behind bars through diminution credits. After the tally was read aloud, Judiciary Chairman Joseph F. Vallario Jr. (D-Dist. 27A) of Upper Marlboro called for a re-vote, claiming that there was something wrong with the vote. Several delegates objected, but the role was called again, and the resulting 23-23 vote defeated the amendment.
Following the re-vote, those watching the vote walked out, yelling, “Shame on you,” and calling delegates communists.
“The liberty tree is parched,” said Del. Michael D. Smigiel (R-Dist. 36) of Chesapeake City to Vallario. Republican delegates said they would try for the amendment again before the entire House.
The bill will next move to the House floor for a vote, and, if it passes, will have to go to a conference committee to hammer out the differences between the House and Senate versions before the session ends April 8.