Gov. Martin O'Malley's gun-control bill is expected to undergo a long and heated debate in the House late Tuesday afternoon as delegates begin considering Maryland's first major piece of gun control legislation in two decades.
The state Senate in February passed a version that would ban the sale of assault weapons, limit magazines to 10 bullets and require fingerprints, training and a license to buy a handgun.
The House is considering a version that keeps those provisions, but would narrow the definition of an assault weapon, ease training requirements for some buyers getting a handgun license and exempt more people from the gun-control bill's rules.
The House version also would ban certain types of cop-killing bullets, require people to report lost guns to police within 72 hours and bar gun ownership for people given a probation before judgment sentence in violent crimes.
In an early test vote on an amendment offered by bill opponents, delegates voted it down 53-83. The chamber's rejection of adding stiffer penalties for people convicted of using a gun in the commission of a crime prompted some opponents to declare defeat.
"That was probably the strongest amendment we had," said Del. Kevin Kelly, an Allegany County Democrat. "They've got the trains on the track and the wheels are greased. The fix is in."
A second amendment to ease training requirements for people with concealed carry permits also failed, 51-83.
Yet, unless some of the House additions are changed on the floor, lawmakers said, it is likely the gun bill will head to a conference committee to resolve differences. The session ends Monday.
"If it emerges as it is drafted, it will have work that needs to be done on it," said Sen. Brian Frosh, a Montgomery County Democrat who shepherded the Senate's version through more than 12 hours of debate in his chamber.
House Republicans plan to offer Tuesday as many as 50 amendments, many of which were rejected in the joint committee vote Friday night that forwarded the bill to the House floor.
The one Republican proposal that drew interest from Democrats failed early in Tuesday evening's debate. House Majority Whip Talmadge Branch said several members of the caucus were interested giving stiffer penalties to those convicted of gun crimes.
"Nobody wants to be easy on crime," Branch said. While several key lawmakers said they expect the bill ultimately to pass the House over Republican objections, urban and rural Democrats were divided on a key part of the bill that would require fingerprints and a license to buy a handgun.
Although most Democrats are expected to vote for handgun licensing - the provison gun-control advocates say is the most important provision -- some will object.
"It's two different worlds," Branch said. "In the urban areas, there are no woods, there are no animals. If you're going to have a handgun, it's for protection of your home, protection of your business, or it's for a reason that isn't legal."
Del. Kathy Dumais, a Montgomery County Democrat in charge of answering questions about the bill during Tuesday's debate, said she expects questions about what happens to fingerprints given to the Maryland State Police when applying for a gun license. She also expects to hear proposals to take specific guns off the assault weapons list.
"Having a complete ban is always going to be problematic," Dumais said, adding that it is hard to define an assault weapon and difficult for laws keep up with an industry that changes weapon features. "My perspective is ... what is it accomplishing?" Dumais said.
"The most important component has always been the licensing," she said.
The law would ban the sale of 45 guns by make and model, along with their "copy-cats," which are defined by a list of potential gun features that include a grenade launcher and a flash suppressor.
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