The Maryland Senate approved most of Gov. Parris N. Glendening’s gun-control bill on a 26-21 vote Monday, after four hours of futile debate by opponents.
The vote capped last week’s deal between the administration and Senate leaders, in which the governor agreed to drop his insistence on smart guns and the leadership pledged to get the bill out of the committee where it had been languishing.
Instead of smart guns — which would be equipped with technology that would allow only the owner to fire them — the amended bill calls for built-in gunlocks on every new gun sold in Maryland. Even with that concession, however, Glendening said it is the “strongest anti-gun violence bill in the nation.”
In addition to built-in gunlocks, the bill would require that shell casings fired from each gun sold in the state be shipped to Maryland State Police to be indexed for forensic testing, in case the gun is used in a crime. It would also require external trigger locks by October for all guns sold in the state, mandatory sentences for gun-toting criminals and restrictions on gun sales to those convicted of felonies as a juvenile.
State Police guns would be exempted from any type of locking device, under the bill. The measure now goes to the House, where leaders have said it has a good chance of passage.
Even in its weakened form, however, the Glendening bill raised the ire of Senate critics.
The opponents did not have the needed 16 votes to sustain a filibuster, which could have delayed a vote on the bill indefinitely. Instead, they said they were given four hours Monday afternoon by Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller Jr., D-Prince George’s, to air their views before he called the vote.
“This is the time when the minority gets a chance to explain to the folks back home why this bill is before us in the form it is,” said Sen. Timothy Ferguson, R-Frederick, the leader of the opposition. “We don’t have the filibuster votes or else we would have filibustered over the weekend”
The opponents did not appear to captivate their opponent with their arguments, which have already been heard numerous times this session. At one point only 16 of the 47 senators were in the chamber.
After the critics’ time expired, the measure passed as expected.
“This bill isn’t going to solve our problems. This bill is a small measured step toward gun safety,” said Sen. Chris Van Hollen Jr., D-Montgomery, who lead support for the bill in Monday’s debate.
But Ferguson said the bill would not increase gun safety, while making the streets less safe for a person carrying a gun with a built-in gunlock who was faced with a criminal is carrying an ordinary, dumb, gun.
“It’s not going to decrease the unfortunate accidents of firearm misuse,” he said. “And it may increase deaths of law-abiding citizens who properly use firearms to defend themselves.”
The bill now goes to the House Judiciary Committee where Chairman Joseph Vallario Jr., D-Prince George’s, said his committee will probably consider the Senate version of the bill.
Vallario could not say when his committee might take up the bill, with less than two weeks left in the legislative session. There is also no guarantee that the bill will not be amended in the House, which would require that it go back to the Senate for final approval.
“There are things in the bill that could be amended,” said Vallario, who opposes mandatory sentencing, which is a component of the bill.
The National Rifle Association has vowed to continue fighting the bill. Greg Costa, the group’s lobbyist, said if the measure is debated in the House “I think the bill can be defeated on its lack of merits.”
House Speaker Casper Taylor Jr., D-Allegany, has said the bill will pass his chamber, but he is unsure if it will be unchanged from the Senate version.