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Sen. Larry E. Haines wants to guarantee law-abiding Maryland citizens a privilege that many mistakenly believe they already have -- the right to keep and bear arms.

Haines, R-Carroll, Baltimore, is sponsoring a bill that would amend the state constitution to provide citizens "the right to keep and bear arms for the defense of self, family,home, and state, and for hunting and recreational use."

Although the Second Amendment to the U.S. Constitution guaranteesthe right to keep and bear arms to maintain an effective militia, courts have ruled that it does not apply to individuals' rights. Stateshave the authority to grant that right to individuals and to regulate citizens' firearms possession through legislation.

If passed by the General Assembly, the amendment would be put before Maryland voters as a referendum on this November's ballot.

Maryland is one of seven states that doesn't have a constitutional provision guaranteeingthe right to keep and bear arms. Courts have established that the right does not apply to those considered "high risk" -- felons, minors and the

mentally ill.

"This proposal explicitly protects the traditional rights that lawful gun owners and sportsmen assumed were guaranteed in Maryland," said Haines.

Sen. Bernie Fowler, D-Calvert,sponsored the same constitutional amendment in 1990. It passed the Senate Judicial Proceedings Committee, 6-5, but was not brought to theSenate floor for a vote.

A hearing will take place on Haines' bill before the Judicial Proceedings Committee at 1 p.m. March 10.

Asa Judicial Proceedings Committee member, Haines said he believed thebill would have a good chance of passing the Senate if approved by the committee, which is split on gun control issues.

"I think a lotof legislators support allowing citizens to express themselves at ballot on a referendum," he said.

The amendment would not affect current gun control laws or prevent the passage of future gun control legislation, said Haines, who opposes attempts to regulate firearms.

Since 1986, voters in West Virginia, Delaware, Maine and Nebraska have ratified ballot referendums strengthening or establishing a state constitutional right to keep and bear arms.

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