ANNAPOLIS – With his assault weapons ban bill mired in the Senate Judicial Proceedings Committee without a vote, Sen. Robert Garagiola made a last-ditch effort to get the issue moving by introducing two new bills on assault weapons.
One bill would prohibit assault weapons at polling places and the second would impose a 10 percent “user fee” on sales of such guns.
“I think that we want to make sure our polling places are safe,” said Garagiola, D-Montgomery, likening his bill to a weapons ban in the state legislative complex put into effect in 1994. “I think these bills stand on their own. The user fee money could go to shock trauma or emergency care.”
But the bills could face serious difficulties so late in the session.
“The deadline has passed. We’ve already had hearings on assault weapons,” said Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller Jr., D-Calvert. “I think these two pieces of legislation are bona fide efforts to address the topic, but now is not the time. I would rather have the issue taken up next year.”
Miller, who owns guns, swords and Civil War memorabilia, said he would favor an assault weapons ban because the police already have a difficult enough time with the proliferation of handguns on the streets. More rapid-fire assault weapons on the streets would create more problems, he said.
Yet, the first piece of new legislation, SB-925, would prohibit carrying or possessing an assault weapon or other firearm at a polling place, deeming it a misdemeanor punishable by a fine not above $1,000 and imprisonment up to one year.
Law enforcement officers on regular duty, or a person hired by the state or local board to guard the polling place would be exempt from the ban.
The second bill, the Assault User Weapon Fee, SB-927, would impose a 10 percent tax on the price of the assault weapon.
The sale of any assault weapon would be subject to this tax. If an individual pays the assault weapons tax when the retail sale is made, the tax would not be reassessed when the person uses the assault weapon in the state.
Garagiola’s assault weapons ban, SB 288, would have eliminated 45 types of assault weapons, including AR-15’s and the Bushmaster, a rifle used by the snipers, and was supported by 70 local state agencies, he said. A similar federal ban expires Sept. 13.
There are 25 or 26 senators and a number of delegates who support the assault weapons ban, Garagiola said. The rub is that there are currently five voters supporting the legislation and six against it.
Sen. John Giannetti, D-Prince George’s, is the swing vote who is perceived to be against the ban.
Garagiola said he was focused on 288 and had not gotten a chance to introduce this legislation until Monday.
“We still have 30 days left. I haven’t given up, I hope to get legislation to the governor’s desk and enacted,” Garagiola said. “A lot of things can happen. This thing is still alive. There are a lot of potential options on the table.”
Delegate Neil F. Quinter, D-Howard, has an assault weapon ban cross-filed in the House to be heard March 16.
“Somebody’s got to go first. We have support from the majority of the committee on the bill and the votes to pass it,” Quinter said. “I do plan on scaling back the ban to match the federal ban.” – 30 – CNS-3-12-04