After two very long days of debate on the House floor, delegates approved a slightly modified version of Gov. Martin O’Malley’s gun control bill 78 to 61 Wednesday.
The bill, which keeps intact all of the major provisions of the version passed by the Senate in February, would ban assault rifles, limit access to firearms by the mentally ill, reduce the maximum ammunition capacity of magazines from 20 to 10 and require safety training and digital fingerprinting of handgun purchasers.
The Firearm Safety Act of 2013 survived multiple attempts by Republicans and conservative Democrats to water down the bill with amendments that would, amongst other things, narrow the definition of an assault rifle, eliminate the fingerprinting requirement and delay the effective date of the bill.
Tempers in the chamber flared briefly during a debate over an amendment that would restrict members of the military under the age of 21 from purchasing regulated firearms.
“Do we want these (military) guys to say I am more free in Iraq or Afghanistan than I am in Maryland?” said Delegate Michael McDermott, R-Wicomico.
House Minority Leader Anthony J. O’Donnell, R-Calvert, said the House was engaged in a “jihad” against the constitutional rights of members of the military.
The verbal dust-up occurred immediately after members of the House Judiciary and Health and Government Operations committees were pulled from the chamber floor into a brief closed door session in which several amendments approved during Friday’s session were removed from the bill.
By removing these amendments – which included a provision that would exempt members of an obscure military support organization called the Maryland Defense Force – the bill more closely resembles the legislation approved by the Senate in February.
Because the legislation still differs slightly from the bill passed by the Senate, the Senate must first approve the changes before the final bill lands on O’Malley’s desk.
House Speaker Michael E. Busch, D-Anne Arundel, said the House version will likely go before the Senate in the next 24 to 48 hours.
Opponents of the bill are looking to the Senate to put a last-minute stop to the bill.
“It’s not quite a done deal yet,” O’Donnell said.
Shannon Alford, state liaison for the National Rifle Association, echoed O’Donnell’s sentiments, saying she hopes the Senate rejects the bill.
While many delegates said the legislation is far from perfect, House Democrats, by and large, said they were pleased with the final version of the bill.
“Gun control works,” said Delegate Benjamin Barnes, D- Prince George’s. “This bill will save lives.”
Delegate Ariana Kelly, D-Montgomery, said she “loved” the bill, particularly the requirement that regulated firearm purchasers undergo at least eight hours of safety training.
“I used to pierce ears at the mall with a gun and I needed more than four hours of training,” Kelly said.
But not all Democrats shared Kelly’s opinion.
Delegate C.T. Wilson, D-Charles, who voted against the bill, said he doesn’t believe it will do anything to keep guns off the street.
Delegates on both sides of the aisle mentioned the demographic divide between the urban and rural areas of Maryland. McDermott called it the “tale of two states.”
With several notable exceptions, urban and suburban delegates supported O’Malley’s bill, while lawmakers from rural areas in Western Maryland and the Eastern Shore opposed it.
“We don’t have a need for assault rifles in the city of Baltimore,” said Delegate Talmadge Branch, D-Baltimore.
O’Malley introduced his gun legislation, SB 281, and its companion bill HB 294, in the wake of December’s massacre at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Connecticut.
Restricting access to firearms has become a hot-button issue nationally in recent months.
President Barack Obama, frustrated with what he perceived as Congress’ waning interest in gun-control, addressed the issue in a press conference last week.
“The notion that two months or three months after something as horrific as what happened in Newtown happens and we’ve moved on to other things?” Obama said last week. “That’s not who we are.”