ANNAPOLIS – With a federal ban on assault weapons expiring in September, some Maryland lawmakers are stepping into the breach with a bill to ban transportation and possession of the armaments more suited to war than city streets, they said Tuesday.
The legislation has the support of more than 70 local and state agencies, according to Leah Barrett, executive director of CeaseFire Maryland, a Baltimore gun-control advocacy group that held a news conference Tuesday to boost the bill’s prospects. The bill has 20 Senate sponsors and 34 House backers, CeaseFire said.
With strong legislative support, the question is whether Republican Gov. Robert Ehrlich will sign such a law if it makes it through the General Assembly.
Chief sponsor Sen. Rob Garagiola, D-Montgomery, said Ehrlich is willing to listen to law enforcement arguments. And he’s not automatically against it, said Ehrlich spokeswoman Shareese DeLeaver.
“Gov. Ehrlich hasn’t taken a specific position or opposition to this legislation,” said DeLeaver. “Generally, he has said that the gun laws in Maryland are far reaching and stringent. However, he does not feel that an assault weapons ban would sufficiently address the issue of violent crime.”
Delegate Richard K. Impallaria, R-Baltimore County, opposes the bill, saying he believes in the importance of keeping the guns out of the hands of criminals, but not in preventing private citizens from having the guns for protection.
“I wish well-minded people would concentrate on deporting (sniper Lee) Malvo rather than deporting guns,” Impallaria said. “Guns didn’t commit the crime, the people need to be prosecuted. Those who have illegally obtained handguns, should get a harsh punishment.”
Garagiola, and the other chief sponsor, Delegate Neil Quinter, D-Howard, said they’ve designed the bill to extend the 1994 Federal Assault Weapons Bill, which curtails the use of automatic weapons, including AK-47’s, Uzis and Streetsweepers. It expires Sept. 13, and Quinter said he does not expect Congress to “do the right thing” and reauthorize it.
Next week, the Maryland Senate Judicial Proceedings Committee will conduct a hearing on the bill, which also would require the Handgun Roster Board to keep a list of prohibited assault weapons published in the Maryland Register. The bill would also designate copycat weapons — guns with a similar design as a military-type weapon, but with minor changes to keep it legal — as assault weapons.
These assault weapons, Garagiola said, were designed to spray large swaths of land and kill many people at once during wartime, not for criminals to shoot police officers.
One in five police officers are killed in the line of duty by a person using an assault weapon, according to an FBI study referenced by Quinter.
Backers also cited Justice Department statistics that show that multiple gunshot wounds and multiple victims are often struck by bullets from assault weapons.
Sen. Nancy Jacobs, R-Harford, a member of the Judicial Proceedings Committee, said she’s against the ban and that the evidence produced at the press conference was based on “falsehoods.”
For example, she said, the contention that assault weapons are used to kill a fifth of all police officers killed in the line of duty. That’s simply “not true,” she said.
“The majority of crime is committed with handguns,” said Jacobs. “It’s ludicrous that they’re going after law-abiding citizens (by taking away their guns).”
Maryland has been a leader in gun-control legislation, with former Gov. Parris Glendening pushing through trigger-lock requirements, and passage of a 1994 assault-pistol ban.
The bill’s backers said that within the first six months after passage of the 1994 legislation, Baltimore had 55 percent fewer assault pistols recovered, while in Prince George’s County assault pistols are no longer being seized.
Garagiola used ATF statistics to bolster his claim that gun legislation works to curb dangerous guns from reaching the streets. Criminals’ use of assault weapons, according to ATF statistics, has plummeted by more than two-thirds since the ban was enacted in 1994.
Barrett called the use of the assault weapons “morally repugnant” and warned potential supporters not to be intimidated by the power of the gun industry and lobbyists.
“These are military weapons,” she said, “and they have no place in a civilized society.”