ANNAPOLIS – The Senate overcame a Republican filibuster, as well as numerous attempts to weaken the bill throughout the amendment process, and approved Gov. Martin O’Malley’s gun control legislation Thursday.
While the bill was amended slightly Wednesday, the final Senate version of SB 281, also known as the Firearm Safety Act of 2013, accomplishes most of O’Malley’s gun control goals.
If the House passes its companion bill, which is scheduled to be heard on Friday, Maryland will have some of the strictest gun laws in the country.
The legislation would ban many assault rifles, lower the maximum capacity for magazines from 20 rounds to 10, require handgun purchasers to submit fingerprints in order to obtain a license and expand restrictions on firearm access for the mentally ill.
The provisions regarding handgun licensing and fingerprinting, which are some of the most controversial aspects of the bill, were nearly stripped from the legislation during Wednesday’s debate over amendments.
Senate Republicans acknowledged that gun violence is a serious issue in society, but blamed external factors rather than access to guns for the problem.
Sen. David Brinkley, R-Frederick, said violent video games, movies and television shows, which he called the “malignant bubble gum of the mind,” influence young people to commit horrible crimes with guns.
“We have a culture of death and violence in our society” but nothing in the legislation will change that, said Sen. Christopher Shank, R-Washington.
Sen. Brian E. Frosh, D-Montgomery, who supported the new restrictions, also made reference to the abundance of firearms in popular culture.
“We see (assault weapons) in movies, we see them in video games…they’re fun,” Frosh said. “But you have to balance that with the public health concerns (of gun ownership).”
The answer to the gun violence problem isn’t more guns, Frosh said.
Republican-sponsored amendments that would have increased the penalty for the commission of a gun crime, and put a resource officer in every school, failed to make it into the final bill.
“I can’t look my constituents in the eye and say I’ve made them safer,” said Sen. E.J. Pipkin, R-Upper Shore.
Some senators from urban areas of the state hoped the bill would help reduce the abundance of guns in city neighborhoods.
“You can get a gun quicker than you can get an apple or an orange in my community,” said Sen. Nathaniel McFadden, D-Baltimore. “It’s outrageous.”
A rare moment of levity came during the Republican filibuster, which lasted several hours before Democrats voted to apply a time limit. Brinkley held up a copy of the popular romance novel “Fifty Shades of Grey” and jokingly threatened to read from it.
Instead, Brinkley and a handful of other Republicans read letter after letter from constituents opposed to gun control.
After the bill was passed, Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller Jr., D-Calvert, said he “personally didn’t like the bill but (he) voted for it for society.”
“If you have a gun, you’re not going to be happy with the bill,” said Miller, a gun owner.
During the debate, several conservative senators remarked that many aspects of the bill, in particular the fingerprinting requirement, infringe on the Second Amendment.
“This ended up being a very extreme bill,” Pipkin said. “This does nothing for the safety of our citizens.”
Frosh disagreed, saying the legislation will “improve public health and save lives.”
University of Maryland, College Park president Wallace Loh, who was in Annapolis for a higher education funding rally, said he is “completely supportive” of O’Malley’s gun control proposals.
While he said banning assault weapons won’t necessarily prevent tragedies like the shooting in College Park earlier this month, the laws will help “reduce the carnage” inflicted by mentally ill gunmen.