ANNAPOLIS – A threatened Maryland Senate filibuster by opponents of Gov. Parris N. Glendening’s gun control bill dissolved into a compromise Friday that made no major changes, clearing the way for a final vote Monday.
Even before the filibuster threat, the bill’s controversial smart gun mandate had already become the most prominent casualty in Glendening’s battle to bring the bill to the floor.
To spring the bill from the conservative Senate Judicial Proceedings Committee, Glendening cut a deal Wednesday with Senate leaders and agreed to drop his call for the high-tech personalized guns in favor of built-in gun locks.
Blocking a potential filibuster, which could delay a vote on the floor indefinitely, was the last obstacle facing the weakened proposal. Leaders made several minor concessions with opponents to avoid the maneuver:
– Expanding The Handgun Roster Board, a State Police-run panel that approves handguns to be sold in Maryland, to include two mechanical or electrical engineers. The board will report to the Legislature on the commercial availability of smart guns starting in 2002.
– Exempting from mandatory gun safety classes the following groups: law enforcement; members, retirees or those honorably discharged from the armed forces; those with a right-to-carry permit; and those who carry a gun as part of their business or have already completed safety training.
The free course, starting in 2002, also must be offered at least once a week in all areas of the state and be held after regular business hours.
Negotiators resolved the argument that tough gun safety tests could constitute a de facto ban by making attendance the only requirement for certification.
Sen. Timothy Ferguson, R-Frederick, who helped broker the deal, said putting engineers on the roster board would give it the technical expertise needed to evaluate smart gun technology.
After Glendening dropped his call for mandated smart guns by 2003 in favor of integrated gun locks, Ferguson said it was more advantageous to compromise than filibuster. However, Ferguson couldn’t get the administration to abandon its call for the built-in locks.
“The bottom line is this is not the smart gun bill,” Ferguson said.
Despite the agreement, Ferguson said he will not vote for the bill when the final call is taken, however he allowed that the mechanical locks are much more reliable than smart gun technology.
“We call this overkill in engineering,” said Ferguson, who works in engineering, pointing out that automatic handguns already have two safety devices.
The built-in lock requirement would be the first of its kind in the country, Glendening said. Opponents might have felt pressure to compromise instead of filibuster for several reasons, he said.
“They were doing the counting as well and knew we had the votes to break the filibuster,” Glendening said.
The bill also requires shell casings be shipped to the State Police to be indexed for forensic testing. A casing also will be shipped with the gun.
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.
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.
The bill is expected to pass the Senate Monday and then go to the House for consideration. Speaker Casper Taylor Jr., D-Allegany, said the bill will pass his chamber, but he is unsure if it will be unchanged from the Senate version.
– 30 – CNS-3-24-00