ANNAPOLIS – With his smart gun proposal facing its first and biggest hurdle next week, Gov. Parris N. Glendening and the chairman of a key Senate committee are rewriting the bill to ensure it has enough support to get out of committee and to a full Senate vote.
In an interview Thursday with Capital News Service, Glendening said he was willing to work with Senate Judicial Proceedings Chairman Walter Baker, D-Cecil, on a compromise.
“I really respect and like and enjoy working with the chairman,” Glendening said. “But I want a strong bill, a bill that makes a difference and that saves lives.”
Vice Chairman Leo Green, D-Prince George’s, said Friday Baker is rewriting the bill. However, Green said he has not seen Baker’s amendments.
Glendening’s bill, as written, stands little chance of passing out of Baker’s 10-member committee, which is widely held to be the most conservative in the General Assembly and kills a considerable number of the bills it hears. The panel will debate the smart guns proposal Wednesday and Baker and seven other committee members have said they will not support it.
While praising Baker and acknowledging the need to work with legislators, Glendening called some judicial committee members “divisive and mean spirited.” However, he has been able to work with the chairman on past gun legislation.
In 1996, Glendening, in cooperation with Baker, was able to push a bill through the committee that included provisions to limit individual’s gun purchases to one a month, require background checks and mandate a seven-day waiting period.
The governor’s smart guns bill requires that beginning in 2003 all guns sold in Maryland include technology to prevent anyone but the user from firing them. The proposal, one of the administration’s major initiatives this session, aims to decrease the amount of youth-on-youth and accidental killing by reducing access to guns.
Many committee members view the issue differently.
“It’s another step in the banning of guns, which will probably happen one of these days, but not with my vote,” Baker said Thursday.
Under the original bill, a commission made up of General Assembly members, the state police secretary and gubernatorial appointees would study the commercial availability of smart gun technology and make its recommendation to the governor.
Green said he heard that one Baker amendment would transfer the power to initiate smart guns mandates from the governor’s office to the General Assembly.
Glendening’s office would not confirm or deny Friday that Baker was working on a redraft. Baker could not be reached Friday for comment.
There also has been speculation that the governor might try and circumvent Baker’s committee by tacking the proposal onto an existing bill in the Budget and Taxation Committee.
However, Glendening said he has no intention of going that route. And the committee’s chairman, Barbara Hoffman, D-Baltimore, said she would not allow the maneuver.
Both the National Rifle Association and Beretta USA, Maryland’s only gun maker, have opposed Glendening’s smart guns proposal from its inception, but it is too early to tell how the anticipated changes will be received by the groups.
Historically, Beretta has opposed the measure for the same reason Baker and some committee members do.
“The technology hasn’t been developed and it, quite frankly, might never be satisfactorily developed,” said Beretta’s General Counsel Jeff Reh. “A mandate would constitute a ban.”
But Glendening has questioned the gun industry’s statement that the technology can’t be developed. He points to the development of underwater guns, armor-piercing bullets and other high-tech gun innovations.
“(But,) when we say we want a gun that’s personalized to protect children, they can’t do it,” Glendening said.
The governor’s gun proposal is not the only one vying for attention this legislative session. The Senate judicial committee will hear a bill the same day as the smart guns measure that mandates a five-year prison term for criminals caught with a gun. The bipartisan, bicameral proposal has a number of co- sponsors including House Speaker Casper Taylor Jr., D-Allegany.
Glendening said some form of his legislation would be voted on in the General Assembly.
“I intend,” Glendening said, “to force a bill to the floor for a positive vote.”