A joint session of two key House committees tweaked parts of Gov. Martin O'Malley's sweeping gun bill during the first five hours of a debate expected to last into the evening.
The changes - which left intact the central provisions of handgun licensing and a ban on the sale of assault weapons - were made in the first public action since February on the legislation. The bill also limits magazines to ten bullets and addresses when people with mental illness can buy guns.
Over the past month since the Senate passed the bill, lawmakers have been debating behind-the-scenes whether to scale back the ban on assault rifles to exclude some models, including the AR-15. That rifle has been used in the several mass shootings, including the Newton, Conn. killing of 20 children and six educators that prompted the Maryland legislation.
On Friday, delegates voted instead to allow some gun features that, in combination, would have made semi-automatic rifles with them banned for sale. Under the bill, a barrel shroud, a threaded barrel, pistol grips, thumb-hole stocks and telescoping stocks would not count as features that disqualify a gun for sale.
Other changes make clear that gun manufacturers can still import and store assault weapons, as well as test them and sell them to dealers and out-of-state customers. Those manufacturers would also be exempt from the limit on magazine sizes.
Beretta USA and other Maryland gun manufacturers have threatened to leave the state over the bill, and other states have courted the companies to move elsewhere.
Delegates also created a slightly different approach to when to bar people with mental illnesses from buying firearms, as well as create a new process for those people to regain the right to purchase guns.
People voluntarily committed to a mental health facility for at least 30 days, as well as those involuntarily committed after a hearing, would be barred from buying guns. The delegates kept provisions that would prevent gun purchases by people who a judge determined incompetent to stand trial and not criminally responsible.
To regain the right to buy a gun, patients would submit an application that includes medical information, a doctor's opinion and character references to the Department of Health and Mental Hygiene.