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Harford legislators fighting to stop gun control bill

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As the gun control debate rages in Annapolis, many Harford County's legislators say they oppose tougher laws on ownership and registration, landing them in the minority among their colleagues in the Maryland General Assembly.

All three of Harford's state senators have already voted against proposed sweeping statewide gun control legislation that passed in the Senate late last week, and the county's representatives in the House of Delegates are taking their turn with it.

"My official position is, I am opposed to that bill," outspoken Del. Pat McDonough said Tuesday. "I think it would be the most oppressive gun bill in the nation if it were to pass."

McDonough, who represents western Harford and eastern Baltimore counties, is pushing for alternative legislation, planning to offer amendments to gut the governor's gun control bill and will push for a referendum if the bill passes.

He is one of seven Republican delegates who represent Harford County in Annapolis. The lone local Democratic delegate is Mary-Dulany James, who represents southern Harford and a small portion of western Cecil County.

The bill McDonough and the majority of the others in the local delegation want to derail is the Firearm Safety Act of 2013, which is sponsored by Gov. Martin O'Malley and which passed by the Senate on Feb. 28 by a vote of 28-19.

Senate Bill 281 contains some of the most stringent restrictions on ownership of handguns and assault rifles in the country, according to previous reports by The Baltimore Sun.

Many opponents, including those living in Harford, say the legislation is a violation of American citizens' Second Amendment rights to "keep and bear" firearms.

Rally against bill

Hundreds of people have gathered outside the State House in Annapolis in recent days to rally for and against the legislation.

"Without question, it's going to be challenged in the courts and I don't think it's going to succeed on a constitutional basis," McDonough said Tuesday.

The legislatures in Maryland, Colorado and other states have been the scenes of intense debate on proposed gun control legislation as governing bodies have worked to curb gun violence in the wake of the deadly shootings last December at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn.

"All of these reforms just might save the lives of little boys and little girls, of moms and dads, of sisters and brothers," The Sun quoted O'Malley as saying, as members of the House of Delegates' judiciary and health committees reviewed the bill during a joint session March 1. "We can and must do more."

The governor said after the Senate vote that the legislation "is supported by overwhelming numbers of Marylanders," according to The Sun report. "Hopefully the House will recognize the very good work that's been done in the Senate."

The Maryland legislation includes provisions such as limiting magazine capacities to 10 rounds of ammunition – anyone who uses a firearm with a magazine of more than 10 rounds while committing a violent crime would be sentenced to a minimum of five years in prison, according to the legislation – requiring gun owners to obtain a license when buying a firearm, barring people who have been determined to be dangerous to others from owning a gun, banning sales of weapons classified as assault rifles and more, according to the legislation and reports in The Sun.

The proposed changes add on to existing gun control laws in Maryland, such as background checks for gun purchasers and a ban on gun ownership by anyone who has been committed to a mental hospital for 30 days.

Many opponents have focused on the licensing provision, because it would require purchasers to be fingerprinted and provide information on their backgrounds.

McDonough said federal courts have stated and policies restricting purchases of firearms "must be the least restrictive and not create delay" for the purchaser.

The opposition by Harford's senators: Barry Glassman, who represents the northern end of the county; Nancy Jacobs, who represents southern Harford and western Cecil County, and J.B. Jennings, who represents western Harford and eastern Baltimore County, was expected. All three are Republicans.

'An infringement...'

Glassman told The Aegis Tuesday he thinks "everyone was outraged at the violence in the school shootings."

He said, however, that many people in his district see the state's proposed legislation as "an infringement on the law-abiding folks," and not a deterrent to criminals who use guns.

"Although it feels good, it's not going to solve the problem of some of the violence that we have," Glassman said.

The senator noted that cities around the country considered the most dangerous also have some of the most restrictive gun laws.

"They really do nothing to address the violence and the folks that break the laws," he said of existing gun laws.

Glassman and Jacobs took issue with Senate leaders cutting off testimony on the bill in the final hours before the vote.

"Everyone should have been allowed their time to express their feelings toward these bills, even if it meant going well into the night or the early hours of the following day," Jacobs wrote in an e-mail Tuesday.

Jacobs added: "Those who came down to Annapolis that day to attend the rally and to testify against the SB 281 were nothing short of amazing. In all my years in Annapolis, I have never witnessed so many people as compassionate about their rights as citizens, their willingness to do whatever it took to be there, and then waiting for many long hours for the opportunity to testify."

Opposed to 'any and all'

The senator also wrote in her e-mail she is "opposed to any and all legislation that infringes upon your Second Amendment right to bear arms."

McDonough said testimony before the joint House committee last week ran until 3 a.m.

He has introduced alternate legislation, House Bill 424, which "simply states that if someone commits a crime of violence with a firearm, they cannot receive early release or parole [from prison] and the sentence cannot be plea bargained."

McDonough said if the bill fails in committee, he will introduce it as an amendment when the full House takes up the legislation, forcing all of his fellow delegates to weigh in.

"I believe my bill actually saves lives and makes common sense and is something that is really needed," he said.

The bill proposed by O'Malley has not yet been voted on by a committee. If passed by the House, it would go back to the Senate for a concurrence vote, and if passed there, would be signed by the governor.

McDonough said a petition to put the gun control issue to a voter referendum is circulating and, if passed, the bill would be held in abeyance and not take effect, if enough signatures can be obtained. The referendum would be on the 2014 ballot.

Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun
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