Lawmakers are predicting that a statewide ban on military-style assault weapons will garner enough votes to pass the General Assembly this year, but a proposal for stricter handgun licensing is likely to meet with more resistance.
“[The licensing proposal] will be more controversial, but I think that’ll pass,” said Sen. Brian E. Frosh (D-Dist. 16) of Chevy Chase, who chairs the Senate Judicial Proceedings Committee.
Frosh is one of several co-sponsors of a sweeping gun-control bill announced by Gov. Martin O’Malley (D) last week in response to the December school shooting in Connecticut that left 20 children dead.
“I think there’s a majority in committee and a majority on the floor of the Senate that will come behind a reasonable gun-control package,” Frosh said.
Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller Jr. (D-Dist. 27) of Chesapeake Beach said last week that while he expected an assault-weapons ban to pass, the licensing provisions –– which would require a license for any handgun purchase, with mandatory fingerprinting, safety training and background checks –– would be a close vote.
“If you’re licensing something, you have the right to take that license away, so I think these issues have to be discussed,” Miller said.
Senate Majority Whip Jamie Raskin (D-Dist. 20) of Takoma Park said it was much too early to begin counting votes, but that the Connecticut shooting shifted the political landscape.
“The overwhelming sense is that we must act to deal with the gun crisis,” Raskin said. “There were people who believed [in these measures] before, but now there are a lot more people.”
Miller expressed concern Jan. 18 that if the licensing requirements are put in the same bill as the assault weapons ban –– as O’Malley has done –– resistance to one could sink the other as well. Raskin said he wasn’t worried about the bill as introduced because it can be amended and broken up as necessary.
“Not everybody is going to support everything, but everyone will support something,” Raskin said.
Resistance is expected from Republicans and lawmakers from the state’s rural counties, some of whom have criticized O’Malley’s plan on constitutional grounds.
“The only people who will be able to have guns in the state, with this package, will be the rich,” said Senate Minority Leader E.J. Pipkin (R-Dist. 36) of Elkton after O’Malley unveiled his proposal. “Whether the governor likes it or not, [gun ownership] is a right.”
Western Maryland Del. Wendell R. Beitzel (R-Dist. 1A) of Accident said he has yet to review O’Malley’s proposal in detail, but that he and other members of the Legislative Sportsmen’s Caucus soon would craft their response.
“I’m certainly going to be very much opposed to a lot of restrictions on our Second Amendment rights,” Beitzel said, adding that while he didn’t have a sense of where his colleagues stood on the measure, he had heard from many constituents opposed to the governor’s legislation.
House Majority Whip Talmadge Branch (D-Dist. 45) of Baltimore said he didn’t think many House members would object to an assault-weapons ban as long as it didn’t target hunters and sportsmen.
O’Malley’s proposal includes exceptions for hunting rifles and shotguns, and contains no provisions banning handguns, according to the administration.
Public opinion on gun control seems to be leaning in O’Malley’s favor, according to a poll released this week by Annapolis-based Gonzales Research & Marketing Strategies.
The poll found that 58 percent of Maryland voters favor an assault weapons ban, while 40 percent oppose it.