ANNAPOLIS – Maryland Senate leaders called on parliamentary maneuvers to bring a stripped down version of Gov. Parris N. Glendening’s gun control proposal to the floor Thursday, bypassing a Senate committee that seemed destined to gut it.
The Senate voted 26-19 to free the so-called smart gun proposal from the Senate Judicial Proceedings Committee. Prying the bill loose was costly – the “smart” requirements for handguns in the original bill had to be jettisoned.
Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller Jr., D-Prince George’s, and Glendening worked out a deal that dropped smart guns in favor of built-in gun locks to bring the bill to the full body.
The original smart gun measure mandated that all guns sold in Maryland have technology allowing them to be fired only by authorized users by 2003. It idled in Judicial Proceedings without the votes to get out.
Chairman Walter Baker, D-Cecil, said he understood the Senate’s desire to tackle the issue, but did not vote to bypass his committee.
“This is the best thing we can do under the circumstances,” he said.
Before invoking the parliamentary maneuver, Miller and his legislative aide studied Mason’s Manual of Legislative Procedure and the Senate rulebook. But the move didn’t go unchallenged.
Republican Sens. Alex Mooney, Frederick, and Andrew Harris, Baltimore County, tried to force the leadership to require a two-thirds vote, rather than a simple majority, to pass the motion.
The debate became usually heated for a body that prides itself on decorum and restraint.
At one point Miller asked Mooney to “tell the little fellow next to you we appreciate his” advice, referring to Mooney’s counsel. Miller later apologized for the remark.
It took 30 minutes, but Miller kept the chamber in order brought the bill out.
Then Sen. Chris Van Hollen Jr., D-Montgomery, introduced the administration’s weakening amendments.
“I don’t want to make the perfect the enemy of the good,” said Van Hollen, a smart guns supporter.
The amendments shift the focus of the legislation from smart guns to built-in gun locks, calling for the internal trigger locks on all new guns sold in Maryland by 2003 – a year later than originally planned.
External trigger locks will be required on all guns sold in Maryland in October. External locks already are provided voluntarily by a majority of gun makers including Maryland’s only manufacturer, Beretta USA Corp.
Instead of creating a new board to oversee smart-gun availability, the compromise passes that authority to the Handgun Roster Board, which is a State Police-run panel that approves handguns to be sold in Maryland. The roster board will report to the Legislature starting in 2002.
After 2002, gun buyers will have to complete a free gun safety course. In response to the argument that tough gun safety tests could constitute a de facto ban, attendance is the only requirement for certification.
The amendments also changes requirements for cataloging weapons ballistics. Originally, the bullet and casing had to be saved for indexing, but the new version requires only shell casings to be shipped to the State Police to be indexed. A casing will also be shipped with the gun.
Unchanged in the bill are mandatory sentences for gun-toting criminals, restrictions on gun purchases by those convicted of felonies as a juvenile and the exemption of State Police from any type of locking device.
Republicans, the bill’s most staunch opponents, have taken particular exception to the original bill’s mandates for high-tech locking devices.
Sen. Timothy Ferguson, R-Frederick and the Republican Caucus floor debate leader, said he would accept requirements for a mechanical safety device if it was proven to work.
“If your gun is not working, you’re dead and I’m responsible,” Ferguson said.
Ferguson threatened a filibuster, which indefinitely postpones a vote on the bill, if acceptable technology could not be found.
Senate leaders would need 29 votes from the 47-member body to break the filibuster.
Miller said he doesn’t foresee a filibuster.
“I expect I’m going to find a way to avoid gridlock,” he said.
Glendening praised Miller for his leadership and said, if passed, this would be the “strongest anti-gun violence bill in the nation.”
Miller said he expects to have the debate wrapped up the end of the weekend, taking a final vote on the bill by Monday.
– 30 – CNS-3-23-00