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Maryland lawmakers began debating the governor’s sweeping gun-control proposal on the Senate floor Tuesday, trading shots over the merits of a provision requiring licenses and fingerprinting for handgun buyers.

Afterward, Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller Jr. (D-Calvert, Prince George’s), who has previously criticized the fingerprinting suggestion, hinted that he might be starting to accept the idea.

“I don’t think it will be taken out of the bill,” Miller told reporters Tuesday. “Every schoolteacher in Maryland has to be fingerprinted, every day care worker has to be fingerprinted. In [Calvert County] even people that allegedly can see the future have to be fingerprinted.”

Sen. Brian E. Frosh (D-Montgomery), who chairs the Senate Judicial Proceedings Committee and defended the bill on the Senate floor, sparred with Senate Minority Leader E.J. Pipkin (R-Upper Shore) over the licensing provisions, which are intended to deter straw purchases and keep criminals from obtaining handguns.

Pipkin argued that because straw purchases already are illegal and few such buyers are ever prosecuted, “licensing is a solution for a problem that really doesn’t exist.”

Frosh countered by pointing to states such as New Jersey, which has strict licensing requirements and has a lower rate of gun deaths than does Maryland. New Jersey also has virtually no straw purchases, according to state police.

Pipkin said he also objected to the idea of licensing gun ownership, which is a constitutional right. He was joined by Sen. Allan H. Kittleman (R-Anne Arundel), who recalled the outrage that met a proposal to require residents to show identification before voting.

“Now we’re saying, for a constitutional right, they need to get fingerprinted and [get] a license,” Kittleman said. “How can you do that?”

Frosh replied that when a person goes into a ballot box, “there’s nobody on the other end of that machine that’s going to fall over dead.”

Both voting and gun ownership were constitutional rights, but owning a firearm “comes with responsibility,” Frosh said. “Fingerprinting people who want to own a firearm is prudent, constitutional and fair.”

A Washington Post poll released Tuesday found that 85 percent of Maryland voters favored strict handgun licensing, including fingerprinting. The survey’s results mirror those of an OpinionWorks poll released last week, which found that 81 percent of voters in the state support such a proposal.

dleaderman@gazette.net