Maryland Poised to Tighten Gun Laws After Senate Vote

Maryland will ban dozens of assault-style weapons and impose new licensing requirements on handgun owners under a bill that would make it the latest state to impose new limits after the massacre in Newtown, Connecticut.

The state Senate passed the measure 28-19 yesterday. The legislation also bars sales of ammunition magazines that can hold more than 10 bullets. It awaits the signature of Governor Martin O’Malley, a Democrat who sought the changes.

“Maryland has chosen to enact a comprehensive, common sense approach to licensing and gun safety,” O’Malley said in a statement after the vote. “We’ve chosen to take action by advancing the strategies that work to save lives.”

A Democratic stronghold, Maryland follows New York, Colorado and Connecticut in limiting firearms ownership after the killing of 20 students and six educators Dec. 14 in Newtown’s Sandy Hook Elementary School. The attack led President Barack Obama to call for expanded federal limits, an effort that has been slow to advance amid opposition from gun-rights lobbyists.

“If we’re really going to tackle this program seriously, then we’ve got to get Congress to take the next step,” Obama said April 3 in a speech in Denver. He plans an April 8 trip to Connecticut, keeping up the pressure as Congress reconvenes.

The measure in Maryland drew objections from Republicans who said it would encroach on law-abiding gun owners and wouldn’t stem violence or prevent shootings like the one in Connecticut. Maryland already has some of the most restrictive gun laws in the country, according to the Law Center to Prevent Gun Violence, a San Francisco-based group that backs tighter limits on firearms.

Slow Movement

While more than 600 gun-control bills have been proposed in state legislatures across the nation this year, many have been slow to advance, a sign of the political divide over the issue. Some states, including South Dakota, Arkansas and Tennessee, have loosened firearms limits this year.

Lawmakers in Connecticut, a state with a gunmaking industry that dates to Colonial times, expanded a ban on assault-style semiautomatic rifles and barred sales of high-capacity magazines. The measure signed into law yesterday by Governor Dan Malloy, a Democrat, also mandates background checks for all would-be gun buyers.

Maryland already requires background checks, including for private gun sales. The measure passed by the Senate yesterday and the House of Delegates the day before would require handgun owners to obtain licenses and pistol-permit seekers to provide fingerprints. It also contains provisions to prevent residents with a history of mental illness from owning guns.

Hundreds of opponents and supporters gathered in Annapolis, the capital, earlier this year as lawmakers advanced O’Malley’s measure. The effort drew criticism from Accokeek, Maryland-based gunmaker Beretta U.S.A. Corp., which said other states were courting it for relocation.

Once enacted, the wider ban on assault-style weapons won’t affect existing owners and dealers will be able to continue selling the guns until the law takes effect in October.

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