- The Enterprise
- The Recorder
The Maryland Senate on Thursday approved a far-reaching proposal aimed at reducing gun violence, despite opposition from all of the chamber’s Republicans and several Democrats.
As amended, the bill, which passed 28-19, includes a ban on so-called assault weapons, including a number of semiautomatic rifles; a ban on magazine clips that hold more than 10 rounds and a new licensing requirement for future handgun purchases that will including fingerprinting, a licensing fee and several hours of safety training.
Marylanders who currently own weapons or magazines banned under the bill will be allowed to keep them, as long as they register the firearms with Maryland State Police.
Sen. Nathaniel J. McFadden (D-Baltimore) said that while mass shootings tended to get the most headlines, the bill was needed to help stop the violence that occurs daily in his city by keeping guns out of the hands of criminals.
“Is this a perfect bill? No. But it’s a step that I think we need to take,” McFadden said.
Last week, a Senate committee reduced the proposed fee from $100 to $50 and the training requirement from eight hours to four hours. Wednesday, the full chamber adopted an amendment proposed by Sen. James Brochin (D-Baltimore) that further reduced the fee to $25.
Senate Republicans unsuccessfully offered an amendment to remove the licensing provision entirely, arguing that it was an undue restriction on the Second Amendment.
“I think it’s overly broad by requiring everyone to have a license and everyone to pay a fee,” said Sen. Allan H. Kittleman (R-Anne Arundel), who proposed the amendment. “We should not be licensing a constitutional right.”
A proposal to remove the fingerprinting requirement, submitted by Sen. Christopher B. Shank (R-Washington), failed in a close vote, 25-21.
Sen. Brian E. Frosh (D-Montgomery), a co-sponsor of the bill, defended the requirement, arguing that it has helped reduce straw purchases in other states, such as New Jersey and Massachusetts, and has yet to be found unconstitutional in those jurisdictions.
Another amendment, from Sen. E.J. Pipkin (R-Upper Shore), would have guaranteed tougher sentences for gun crimes by eliminating diminution credits, parole and future plea bargains for offenders who commit gun crimes.
These people “should have the book thrown at them,” Pipkin said in arguing that as initially proposed, the bill placed new restrictions on law-abiding gun owners but did nothing to further punish criminals.
Frosh argued that the amendment was unnecessary and that removing plea bargains from the toolbox of prosecutors likely would result in more acquittals.
The chamber rejected Pipkin’s amendment, as well as a similar offering from Brochin that it initially approved but then reconsidered and rejected after Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller Jr. (D-Calvert, Prince George’s) warned that it violated Senate rules by changing the subject of the bill.
A compromise measure to help keep the dangerously mentally ill from owning guns, proposed by Sen. Robert A. Zirkin (D-Baltimore), was adopted late Wednesday.
The amendment struck a provision barring anyone who has been voluntarily committed for 30 days or longer from owning a gun, and replaced it with a ban on those who had been voluntarily committed after being declared dangerous to themselves or others through an emergency petition process.
Lawmakers and mental health professions have worried that restrictions on those who have been voluntarily committed would deter people from seeking the treatment they need.
Sens. David Brinkley (R-Frederick) and Nancy Jacobs (R-Harford, Cecil) challenged Frosh on whether the bill accommodated double-amputees or others who may be physically unable to give a full set of fingerprints.
Frosh assured the chamber that while the issue wasn’t specifically addressed in the bill, those people would not be denied a license for lack of a full set of fingerprints.