BY LUCAS HIGH and RASHEE RAJ KUMAR
ANNAPOLIS – Gov. Martin O’Malley is one step closer to achieving his goal of strengthening Maryland’s gun control laws thanks to a vote of approval in the Senate Judicial Proceedings Committee Thursday.
The committee approved SB 281, known as the Firearm Safety Act of 2013, by a 7 to 4 vote.
The legislation will move to the floor of the Senate where additional amendments are expected to be introduced.
If the legislation passes, Maryland’s gun laws will be some of the strictest in the nation. The law would ban assault rifles, decrease the maximum capacity of ammunition magazines from 20 to 10, update handgun licensing requirements to include digital fingerprinting, improve school security and restrict the ability of people who have been involuntarily committed to psychiatric facilities from purchasing guns.
“This is a great life-saving victory for the people of Maryland,” said Vincent DeMarco, president of Marylanders to Prevent Gun Violence. ”It’s a terrific public health victory.”
But the National Rifle Association saw it differently.
“Even with the amendments that were put in place the bill still strikes a huge blow at the 2nd amendment rights of law abiding citizens,” said Shannon Alford, State Liaison for the National Rifle Association.
Some of the most hotly contested provisions involved how to keep guns from people with mental health problems, including whether to expand restrictions to some people who are voluntarily committed for treatment.
Those amendments were not voted on and may be rewritten and reintroduced on the Senate floor.
“This is not about a 2nd amendment right, it’s about the safety of people who are sick,” said Sen. Lisa Gladden, D-Baltimore.
Several senators were concerned that some of the mental health provisions would discourage people from getting needed treatment.
“We have got to tread extremely carefully,” said Sen. Christopher Shank, R-Washington. “We’re not going to solve it tonight, either.”
Sen. Joseph Getty, R-Baltimore County, cited the report of the Task Force to Study Access of Mentally Ill Individuals to Regulated Firearms.
“The mental health professionals do not want any voluntary admissions to be brought into the process because it creates a push-back on an individual seeking services,” Getty said.
“This is going to have a chilling effect on treatment,” Shank said.
Not only did the senators disagree philosophically on many portions of the mental health amendments, there was constant debate about the nuances in the language of the proposals.
Shirleen Pilgrim, counsel for the Senate Judicial Proceedings Committee, was in the spotlight all evening as senators repeatedly turned to her for legal clarifications.
“This might be the most difficult problem we’ve had to tackle,” said Sen. Jamie Raskin, D-Montgomery, in regard to the mental health aspects of the amendments.
At times, senators were so tired from debating they dropped the standard senatorial courtesies and started referring to one another by their first names.
Dinner was served and volume after volume of law books were passed around.
The legislation constitutes a “comprehensive approach” to gun control, O’Malley told the committee when he testified in favor of the bill earlier this month.