Gov. Parris N. Glendening's gun safety legislation cleared its last big hurdle last night as a majority of the House Judiciary Committee put aside reservations about the bill's imperfections and approved it without changes.
The measure goes to the full House of Delegates, where many opponents acknowledge that the governor has more than enough votes for final passage.
Glendening, who had aggressively lobbied for the measure's approval, congratulated the committee for its 14-7 vote.
"In the face of extreme and even extremist pressure, these members did the right thing," he said. "They gave the bill thoughtful consideration, and then they did exactly what we asked and approved a clean bill."
The legislation would make Maryland the first state to require built-in locks on all handguns sold. Until that provision takes effect in 2003, handguns would have to come with external locks.
The debate has drawn national attention, and the committee voted under the scrutiny of a bank of television cameras.
Provisions in the governor's original bill would have required high-tech Smart Gun" technology, but those elements were stripped from the legislation in the Senate last week as part of a compromise that overcame the threat of a filibuster.
The compromise was not enough to allay the concerns of the National Rifle Association, which tried to defeat the bill with an 11th-hour barrage of television ads ridiculing Glendening and urging opponents to call House Speaker Casper R. Taylor.
The ads seemed to backfire as committee Democrats rallied around the bill even though many has expressed serious concerns about several provisions.
Republicans offered amendment after amendment, hoping one of them would tempt enough Democrats to make that one little change that would send the bill back to the Senate.
The majority -- aware that returning the bill to the Senate would risk its defeat in the final week of the legislative session -- would not rise to the bait.
The Democrats defeated every amendment, even some they admitted were attractive. Several of the votes took place under the watchful eye of Taylor, who supported the Senate compromise.
GOP members protested that the committee was approving a bill members knew was riddled with drafting errors and ambiguities.
"It's pretty distressing what's going on in this voting session," said Del. Joseph M. Getty, a Carroll County Republican who argued that key provisions of the statute needed clarification.
Del. Anne Marie Doory dismissed his arguments. "The ultimate statutory consideration is whether a bill lives or dies," said Doory, a Baltimore Democrat.
Frustration with process
Several Democrats made clear they regretted not being able to put their own stamp on the bill.
"I'm very frustrated at the way this system works on gun control," said Del. Dana L. Dembrow,a Montgomery County Democrat, who dropped plans to offer amendments and voted with the majority.
Del. Kenneth C. Montague Jr. was especially concerned about a provision that would bar juvenile delinquents who have committed violent or drug crimes from owning a gun until they turn 30. He said he fears the confidentiality of juvenile records would be breached.
"It's a major flaw," said Montague, a Baltimore Democrat.
"However, you as well as I know this will not be addressed today," he said before voting against a Republican amendment that would have addressed the issue.
The House is expected to vote on the bill next week.