Maryland's House of Delegates approved a major gun control measure Wednesday to ban assault weapons, require people who buy handguns to provide their fingerprints and limit gun magazines to 10 bullets.
The House voted 78-61 for the bill, one of Democratic Gov. Martin O'Malley's priorities for the legislative session scheduled to end at midnight Monday. All 78 votes in support of the bill came from Democrats, while 18 Democrats joined all 43 Republicans in the chamber to vote against it.
While there are differences between the House and Senate that will need to be reconciled before the Legislature could send the measure to O'Malley for his signature, the main parts supported by gun control advocates remained intact. They included the fingerprint requirement, which opponents repeatedly tried to take out of the measure. Lawmakers in the Senate and the House, both with strong Democratic majorities, rejected amendments that would have stripped the provision.
"As states that have this show, when handgun purchasers have to get a fingerprint license through the state police, they are much less likely to buy guns for criminals. These straw purchases are one of the main ways criminals get guns," said Vincent DeMarco, president of Marylanders to Prevent Gun Violence.
Only five other states have a similar law: Connecticut, Hawaii, Massachusetts, New York and New Jersey, DeMarco said. Connecticut was the last state to pass such a law, he added, doing so in the mid-1990s.
The Maryland measure also included an assault weapons ban for 45 guns, although people who own them or order them before the law takes effect in October would be allowed to keep them.
Supporters say the measure will put Maryland's already strong gun-control laws among the nation's strongest. Critics described the bill as a devastating blow to Second Amendment rights. They said the measure wrongly focuses on guns, rather than people who use them to commit crimes.
"We never blame cars for killing people when they're driven by drunk drivers or out-of-control pop stars," said Delegate Justin Ready, R-Carroll. "Vehicles kill more people in this country than anything else, but no reasonable person would ever suggest that we should ban vehicles based on how they look, even when there are some that maybe have a higher propensity to say, flip over."
The bill also strained relations with Berretta USA Corp. The company has a factory in Accokeek that makes some products Maryland residents would not be allowed to legally own. The 500-year-old company would still be able to sell the products out of state. Other states have urged the company to relocate.
The measure sought to address people with mental illness who try to get guns. Under the House bill, people who have been involuntarily committed to a mental health facility would not be able to possess a firearm.
The debate often pitted rural lawmakers against legislators from urban and suburban areas.
Delegate Talmadge Branch, D-Baltimore, told lawmakers how Baltimore legislators regularly attend funerals of people who are gunned down. He described a calendar that sometimes included two funerals a week or two a month.
"We don't have a need for an assault rifle in the city of Baltimore," Branch said. "We don't have that kind of need, and we don't need guns on the street that are unlicensed, and we don't need guns on the street that are actually killing people."
But Delegate Michael McDermott, R-Worcester, noted that Baltimore experienced many more homicides a year when the federal ban on assault weapons was in effect from 1994 to 2004 than it does now.
"The problem in Baltimore city is not assault weapons. It's not assault pistols. It's not assault rifles. It's assault of people," McDermott said.
There are a number of differences the House and Senate will need to work out. For example, the House legislation would require someone to report a lost or stolen gun within 72 hours. The House bill would also ban gun possession for anyone sentenced to probation before judgment for a violent crime. It wasn't immediately clear whether the Senate would accept the House changes or whether a team of negotiators from both houses would be named to work through the differences.
O'Malley proposed the measure in the aftermath of December's massacre at a Newtown, Conn., school, where a gunman killed 20 children and six adults before committing suicide.
The governor this week included $4.6 million in a supplemental budget to help implement the bill by creating a center for state police to enforce it.
The gun measure also would make $25 million available for schools to invest in security measures such as locks, cameras and buzzer entrance systems.