ANNAPOLIS -- Sharon Ramboz, a tiny 31-year-old mother of three, heard burglars break into her home after her husband left for work one morning three years ago.
The Marylander fetched an AR-15 assault weapon she kept in the house, crept to the stairway and, as a warning to the intruders, pulled back the bolt to engage a round.
The men "took off" when they heard that distinctive sound, Ms. Ramboz told the House Judiciary Committee yesterday at a hearing on a Schaefer administration bill to ban military-style assault weapons in Maryland.
The bill would outlaw future sales of 48 weapons, including the AR-15, but would allow current owners to keep them.
"I don't want to be at the mercy of some criminal who can get that gun and I can't. I'm begging you not to take that security away from me," Ms. Ramboz said.
But police officials, Maryland Attorney General J. Joseph Curran Jr. and physicians urged the committee to ban the assault weapons in an effort to curb crime and prevent injuries and deaths.
Two other states, New Jersey and California, already have assault weapon bans on the books.
David Iannucci, chief legislative officer for Gov. William Donald Schaefer, described the measure as a precaution rather than as a response to numerous assault-weapon murders. "We cannot point to a huge number of Marylanders killed with assault weapons," he said.
Gun advocates, including the National Rifle Association, attacked the bill on those grounds, saying crime statistics show that legally obtained assault weapons are not a problem.
A somewhat different bill to ban assault weapons passed the House of Delegates last year but died in the Senate Judicial Proceedings Committee.
The Schaefer administration included more weapons in this year's bill but dropped permit requirements for current owners of such guns. However, Mr. Iannucci said yesterday he is willing to negotiate on the list of weapons that would be banned. Another administration bill would require owners to store their guns in such a way that no one under 18 could reach them. Guns would have to be under lock and key, have a locking mechanism, or be stored in a locked box.
Nine Maryland children have been accidentally injured or killed while playing with loaded firearms since last spring, when a state Senate committee rejected a similar gun safety bill, Mr. Iannucci said.
Sally Welch, whose 15-year-old son was killed in 1988 by a cousin playing with a gun, testified for the bill. "My son would not have died if this gun had been safely locked away as it should have been," she said.
Gun owners, however, say the bill would keep adults from getting their guns quickly in an emergency, such as when criminals were breaking into their homes.