A gun-control measure backed by the governor has made it through the state Senate and supporters say it will make Maryland's already strong weapons laws some of the toughest in the nation. Opponents decried the bill as an erosion of Second Amendment rights.
The measure, which passed 28 to 19, has a licensing requirement for handgun buyers to submit fingerprints to state police. The provision is intended to reduce the number of guns purchased by a friend or family member of someone who is not allowed to own a gun. All of the supporters were Democrats. Seven Democrats and all 12 Senate Republicans voted against the measure.
The House of Delegates will now work on the bill, which has a hearing scheduled for Friday.
"Our state is a very divided state in terms of urban and rural areas," said Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller, a gun owner who said he voted for the bill even though he was not happy with it. "In rural areas, they don't care for this bill at all. In the urban areas, they think it's very important for public safety and protection against personal violence."
Opponents said the measure will only hamper law-abiding citizens.
"My constituents think this bill will adversely affect them a lot more than it will the criminals," said Sen. Bryan Simonaire, R-Anne Arundel.
Other parts of the bill address concerns about firearms access for people with mental illnesses. It would prohibit anyone who has been involuntarily committed due to mental illness from possessing a firearm. The bill, which the Senate spent most of the week on, also would ban assault weapons and limit magazine capacity to 10 rounds. And it would require handgun purchasers to take a hands-on safety course.
Gov. Martin O'Malley proposed the measure in the aftermath of December's massacre at a Newtown, Conn., school, where a gunman killed 20 children and six adults before committing suicide. The bill would make $25 million available for schools to invest in security measures such as locks, cameras and buzzer entrance systems.
It also bans assault weapons, as a federal law did before expiring in 2004, and would not apply to any guns people have now. The bill also included an amendment to allow Maryland gun manufacturers to continue making guns that would be banned in Maryland, if they are sold out of state. The change was made to accommodate companies like Berretta, which has a service center in Accokeek.
One of the most contentious parts of the bill is a licensing requirement for handgun buyers to submit fingerprints to state police. The provision is intended to reduce the number of guns purchased by a friend or family member of someone who is not allowed to own a gun.
Sen. Nathaniel McFadden, D-Baltimore, said while much of the debate has focused on preventing mass shootings that have occurred in other parts of the country, his community struggles with deadly gun violence on a regular basis.
"You can get a gun quicker than you can get an apple or orange in my community," McFadden said. "It's outrageous. We have to start somewhere. We have to do something."
Critics said more should be done to punish criminals, not restrict gun rights.
"We're a body here that's elected by the people of Maryland to represent our constituents on an issue of this importance and all I kept thinking to myself was we refuse to punish the lawbreakers, but we're more than willing to trample on constitutional rights," said Sen. Allan Kittleman, R-Howard.
But supporters emphasized that only the most destructive weapons were being banned for the benefit of public safety.
"I'm talking about killing machines, automatic, semiautomatic weapons with flash suppressors, grenade launchers, silencers, military-style assault grips -- things that have no place in the realm of deer hunting or sportsman activities," said Sen. Roger Manno, D-Montgomery.
By BRIAN WITTE Associated Press