O'Malley's gun bill heads into final vote unscathed

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Local,Maryland,Andy Brownfield,Gun Control

ANNAPOLIS -- Gov. Martin O'Malley's bill to make Maryland one of the most restrictive states for gun ownership got the House's preliminary approval on Tuesday with all of its major components intact, despite GOP attempts to gut the measure.

The Democratic majority shot down so many amendments that House Minority Leader Anthony O'Donnell, R-St. Mary's and Calvert counties, questioned whether they'd been given marching orders.

"I was told no amendments were going to be accepted tonight," O'Donnell said about two hours into the six-hour floor debate. He asked the bill's floor leader -- Del. Kathleen Dumais, D-Montgomery County -- if that was true. She denied it.

The bill would ban future purchases of assault weapons, require licensing and fingerprinting for new handgun purchases, outlaw ammunition magazines that carry more than 10 rounds and forbid gun ownership by the mentally ill.

The House killed an amendment to remove the fingerprinting provision, one that would have eliminated the requirement that Marylanders get a license to buy a handgun -- something Republicans claim would lead to a de-facto ban on new purchases -- and one to strike everything in the bill except for the ban on gun ownership by the mentally ill.

Republicans said the lack of shooting ranges, firearms instructors and the massive backlog on processing background checks for new gun purchases would make it almost impossible to buy a firearm under the provisions of the bill.

"This is not a firearms safety act," said Del. Michael McDermott, R-Wicomico and Worcester counties. "It has become a firearms suppression act."

Eastern Shore Republican Del. Michael Smigiel echoed a common opposition argument that the bill targeted law-abiding gun owners instead of criminals who use firearms.

He reintroduced a contentious amendment that was killed in committee that would have toughened penalties for people who use guns during the commission of a crime. It would eliminate parole and credits that would allow early inmate release if they participate in education or job training programs.

"No part of this bill is about punishing bad men, bad people with guns," Smigiel said.

"Let's send a message -- let's get those people off our streets, keep those people off our streets."

A few amendments were approved, including one that would expunge the fingerprints of handgun license applicants who are rejected and one to eliminate the requirement that applicants prove their gun proficiency on a shooting range.

The measure could be passed as early as Wednesday, but only after Delegates have further chances to amend the bill.

abrownfield@washingtonexaminer.com

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