Maryland lawmakers passed a ban on sales of assault-style weapons and high-capacity ammunition magazines, a step sought by Governor Martin O’Malley in response to the December school massacre in Newtown, Connecticut.
The measure approved 78-61 yesterday by the House of Delegates would also impose new licensing requirements for handgun buyers and bar the mentally ill from owning firearms. The state Senate, which already approved the bill, must consider it again because of changes made in the House.
Final passage would add Maryland to a growing list of states tightening gun controls following the murder of 20 youngsters and six educators Dec. 14 in Newtown’s Sandy Hook Elementary School. New York passed a law in January, Colorado followed and legislative leaders in Connecticut reached an accord on new steps this week. Enactment also would give a win to O’Malley, a potential 2016 Democratic presidential contender.
The Maryland bill would ban several types of semiautomatic rifles and handguns and limit magazine capacity to 10 rounds. It also would require pistol-permit applicants to take a gun-safety course and give their fingerprints to the state police.
The legislative session ends on April 8, so the Senate must act on the bill by then for it to become law this year. If enacted, it wouldn’t take effect until Oct. 1, and it would allow owners of banned weapons to keep them.
The Dec. 14 Newtown shooting prompted a renewed national debate about gun control. In U.S. statehouses, more than 600 bills have been filed to tighten firearm limits, according to the Law Center to Prevent Gun Violence, a San Francisco group that advocates for stricter laws. While President Barack Obama, a Democrat, has sought passage of similar steps in Congress, opposition from lobbyists such as the National Rifle Association has slowed progress on the proposals.
In Maryland, a Democratic stronghold, hundreds of opponents and supporters gathered in Annapolis, the capital, earlier this year as O’Malley’s measure advanced in the Senate. The effort was also criticized by Accokeek-based gunmaker Beretta U.S.A. Corp., which said other states were courting it for relocation.
During yesterday’s House debate over the bill, supporters said it would help reduce gun violence.
“I don’t think Baltimore needs assault weapons,” said Delegate Talmadge Branch, a Democrat from the state’s most-populous city. “I don’t see what need it would serve except to use them in some harmful way.”
Opponents said it would curb the rights of law-abiding gun owners and wouldn’t prevent tragedies like the one in Newtown.
Republican Delegate Donald Elliott, who represents rural areas west of Baltimore, said that the legislature is misguided to ban the types of guns residents can buy, saying it would do little to deter criminals intent on acquiring one.
“A person inclined and mentally disturbed will find a gun,” he said. “The focus on the gun is misguided.”