Gov. Martin O'Malley said Tuesday he will likely introduce a gun control package in the coming legislative session and reiterated his opposition to assault weapons like the one used in the Newtown massacre.
The Democratic governor said he has directed staff and key Cabinet members to look at three areas for possible legislation: limiting the type of guns that are allowed in Maryland, restricting access to guns by the mentally ill and looking at ways that the state can make schools safer.
"The likelihood is that there will be a bill from this administration, the details of which we are still working on," O'Malley said at a briefing with reporters. "I think we have too many guns and I think we have too much killing."
O'Malley spoke as President Barack Obama announced that he wants to renew the federal ban on assault weapons, which expired in 2004. Governors around the country are also examining state-level gun control laws, including Gov. Rick Snyder, the Republican governor of Michigan, who vetoed legislation Tuesday that would have allowed concealed weapons in churches, schools and daycare centers.
The National Rifle Association, the powerful organization that has opposed gun laws, has been silent since the Connecticut school shooting but said Tuesday that it would hold a news conference Friday to "offer meaningful contributions to help make sure this never happens again."
In Maryland, Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller said he would be receptive to a stronger state gun control law and has spoken with O'Malley about the possibility of a gun package. "These assault weapons, some of them as big as suitcases, belong in Iraq and Afghanistan but not Prince George's County or Baltimore City," Miller said.
State Sen. Brian Frosh, a Montomgery County Democrat and chairman of the Judicial Proceedings Committee, has said he and others are planning a package of legislation to ban assault weapons in Maryland and give state police more authority to oversee gun stores.
An aide to House Speaker Michael E. Busch said his chamber will look closely at gun control legislation.
O'Malley focused his remarks Tuesday about gun control on the availability of assault weapons and the number of rounds permitted in a magazine. "It is hard to conclude that these guns should be in the hands of anyone who isn't a soldier on the battlefield or a law enforcement officer who was being sent into a tactical situation," the governor said.
He said an assault weapons ban "would be more effective" at the national level, adding that Congress "should have never let it expire."
Under current law, Marylanders can own or purchase 45 different types of semiautomatic assault weapons — firearms where a new bullet is loaded into a chamber immediately after the gun is fired.
State law also permits gun owners to have magazines with up to 20 bullets. The shooter in Newtown used magazines with 30 bullets. Gun control advocates in Connecticut are pushing to limit the magazine size to 10.
A leading opponent of gun control in Maryland, Del. Michael Smigiel, an Eastern Shore Republican, has pledged to fight such proposals in the annual 90-day General Assembly session that beings Jan. 9. "It's absolutely wrong that they would politicize this and capitalize on this tragedy," he said.
"I have a different perspective on the solution," Smigiel said. "It is not to attack the firearm; it is to attack the problem, which is people who have a mental health issue."
O'Malley said that state laws need to be reviewed "to make sure that we properly limit the access to assault rifles and guns for people who are suffering from an illness." Under current law, a person must have spent 30 consecutive days in a state mental hospital before he or she is prohibited from owning a gun.
A task force created by the General Assembly to make recommendations on mental illness and gun ownership is expected to report Dec. 31. The task force also is considering how to give state police more access to mental health records when conducting background checks on prospective gun owners.
Gun control bills have had little traction in the State House over the past 15 years, said Vincent DeMarco, an Annapolis advocate who has long been involved with the issue. The federal assault weapons ban enacted in 1994 went further than Maryland's laws that already outlawed assault pistols and limited magazines to 20 rounds.
Since that broader federal ban expired in 2004, Maryland gun control advocates unsuccessfully attempted to institute a state-level ban, but DeMarco said public sentiment has now focused popular opinion on taking action.
"I think the primary focus in Maryland is to prevent the kind of tragedies that happened in Aurora and Newtown," DeMarco said, referring to the Colorado mass shooting in July in which 12 where killed and 58 were injured in a movie theater and Friday's school shooting in Connecticut.
"The fact of the matter is there is no good reason for any legitimate gun owner to have a magazine that could shoot more than 10 bullets," DeMarco said.
The Associated Press contributed to this article.
twitter.com/erinatthesunCopyright © 2015, The Baltimore Sun