It took dozens of hours of hearings and debate, but both chambers of the Maryland General Assembly have passed separate versions of a far-reaching gun-control bill.
The House of Delegates passed a bill 78-61 Wednesday afternoon. The Senate passed a bill 28-19 on Feb. 28.
The legislative process is not over. There are differences between the two bills that will have to be worked out before a final version can be sent upstairs to the governor’s desk for his signature.
The bill, proposed by Gov. Martin O’Malley (D), was introduced in the early days of the session and attracted some of the largest crowds during the session to testify and protest.
After nearly six hours of debate and more than 20 proposed amendments, the House advanced the bill, which would ban certain assault-style guns; limit the maximum number of rounds in magazines to 10; and require fingerprints, safety training and a $50 fee from those seeking a license for a regulated firearm.
It also would let the Maryland State Police audit gun dealers and would require owners of regulated firearms to report within 72 hours when their guns are lost or stolen.
The proposal has a mental health component, banning individuals previously involuntarily committed to a mental health facility, found incompetent to stand trial, or under legal guardianship due to mental or fiduciary reasons from owning firearms.
Current owners of what would be banned assault weapons under the bill would have their firearms grandfathered in, as would anyone who places a verifiable order between now and Oct. 1, when the bill would go into affect.
Just before debate began, members of the Judiciary Committee and the Health and Governmental Operations Committee were called off the floor to make some eleventh-hour amendments to the bill.
One amendment, addressing one of the most hotly contested issues from Tuesday night’s House debate, will let some off-duty law enforcement officers carry a firearm onto school grounds. The officer must be the parent or guest of a student at the school, display his or her badge, and have the weapon concealed.
Another amendment removed the Maryland Defense Force from the list of exceptions to the licensing requirement. The Maryland Defense Force is a group of about 450 volunteers who provide support to the Maryland National Guard, but do not have military or weapons training.
Members of the armed forces younger than 21 are prohibited from being licensed to purchase a handgun under another amendment. Licensed firearms dealers are prohibited under federal law from selling to individuals younger than 21.
Opponents of that measure said it violates the rights of members of the armed forces.
“We’re in here today, and this bill is still being written and rewritten,” Del. Ronald A. George (R-Dist. 30) of Arnold said.
A dozen other amendments were offered by opponents of the bill, including an amendment to turn the bill into a study, but all were rejected.