An hour before what could be the biggest day in the months-long gun control saga, the State House and Lawyers Mall were oddly quiet.
The hundreds of Second Amendment activists and gun control advocates who have organized raucous rallies to mark each legislative milestone in the gun control bill’s march to Gov. Martin O’Malley’s desk were mostly absent from the capital as the House prepared for it final debate on HB 294 at 4 p.m. Tuesday.
O’Malley’s bill would ban the purchase of assault rifles, reduce maximum ammunition magazine size from 20 rounds to 10 and require handgun purchasers to submit digital fingerprints prior to licensing.
The House is scheduled to debate amendments to the bill Tuesday afternoon and is likely to vote later in the week.
Advocates on both sides of the issue who made the trip to Annapolis said they were thinking positively as they climbed the steep State House stairs to watch the proceedings in the House chamber.
“I don’t think there is any way they won’t pass (the bill),” said Erin Sharkey Gormley, Maryland chapter leader of Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense in America.
Rev. Cristina Paglinauan, an Episcopal priest at the Church of the Redeemer in Baltimore, said she was hopeful the House would pass a gun control bill that includes an assault rifle ban and fingerprint licensing.
The other side was equally hopeful.
“I’m pretty optimistic,” said Harry Berman of Finksburg, a member of the National Rifle Association and the Second Amendment rights group Maryland Shall Issue, who has made 14 trips to Annapolis to protest the bill.
Berman said he was disappointed in a joint House committee that convened on Friday and moved the bill to the House floor without passing amendments that would have narrowed the legal definition of an assault rifle and eliminated the controversial fingerprinting requirement.
If the bill were to pass without major amendments, Maryland would have some of the strictest gun control laws in the nation.
The fingerprinting requirement barely survived the amendment process in the Senate, which passed the bill in February.