This story was updated at 1:20 p.m. Feb. 22.
A Senate panel signed off on a broad and far-reaching proposal to reduce gun violence late Thursday night, voting seven to four to send a modified version of the controversial bill to the full chamber for further debate and a vote.
Lawmakers on the Judicial Proceedings Committee adopted several changes to the initial bill, proposed last month by Gov. Martin O'Malley (D) in the wake of December's mass shooting in Newtown, Conn.
The full Senate is likely to begin work on the bill Tuesday, Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller Jr (D-Dist. 27) of Chesapeake Beach said Friday.
Miller praised the committee's work and said that while the bill will likely be amended further, he expects it to pass the Senate next week.
O’Malley’s proposed bill included a ban on so-called assault weapons, such as semiautomatic assault rifles, and high-capacity magazines, as well as stricter licensing requirements for handgun purchases, such as fingerprinting and more extensive safety training.
Amendments adopted by the committee include reducing the required hours of training from eight to four, and reducing the handgun license fee from $100 to $50. The fee to renew that license was reduced to $20.
The committee also loosened restrictions on so-called "copycat weapons," which are built to resemble other banned weapons. As amended, the bill would allow guns that have one "copycat" feature, such as a pistol grip or telescoping stock, but not two of those features.
Another amendment, proposed by Chairman Brian E. Frosh (D-Dist. 16) of Chevy Chase, gives the state police broader authority to audit the sales records of gun dealers.
Senators supportive of gun rights, such as Nancy Jacobs (R-Dist. 4) of Abingdon and Christopher B. Shank (R-Dist. 2) of Hagerstown, sought to further soften O'Malley's proposals, which would make Maryland gun laws among the strictest in the nation.
Shank proposed an amendment doing away with the fingerprinting requirement for licensees, which the committee voted down.
Frosh argued that the fingerprinting was perhaps the most important aspect of the bill, since it would help deter straw purchases and keep guns out of the hands of criminals.
"[Removing fingerprinting] cuts out the heart of the bill," said Sen. Jamie Raskin (D-Dist. 20) of Takoma Park.
The committee adopted an amendment from Sen. James Brochin (D-Dist. 42) of Towson extending the renewal period for handgun licenses from 5 years to 10 years, but rejected one from Jacobs that would have allowed the automatic renewal of licenses provided the licensees were still in good standing.
As initially proposed, O’Malley’s bill would also have prohibited gun ownership by anyone committed to a mental health facility, voluntarily or involuntarily, for 30 consecutive days or more and would increase data-sharing and crisis resources for mental illness.
The committee discussed the mental health provisions late into the night Thursday, trying to find a suitable compromise on the voluntary commitment provision, which members felt could scare people away seeking the treatment they may need.
One suggestion, which was proposed by Sen. Robert A. Zirkin (D-Dist. 11) of Owings Mills and could resurface later in the debate, would apply the prohibition on handgun possession to those involuntarily committed or certain people who were committed voluntarily.
The latter group would need to have been declared both mentally ill and a danger to themselves or others through an emergency petition process.
The committee’s approval of the bill drew praised from gun-control advocate Vincent DeMarco, president of Marylanders to Prevent Gun Violence, who said the measure will save lives.
Gun-rights supporters, however, were critical of the licensing provisions, arguing that they conflicted with the Second Amendment.
"You shouldn't have to ask government permission to exercise a fundamental right," said Shannon Alford, state liaison for the National Rifle Association, after Thursday's vote. "A criminal doesn't ask permission before he attacks your family."
People who make straw purchases are already committing a felony, and wouldn't be deterred by additional restrictions, Alford said.
Miller said that he was also skeptical of fingerprinting requirement. "If I, personally, was going to buy a gun, I'd go to Virginia before I'd give my fingerprints to any government agency," he said.