Senate panel votes to help victims get guns

The Baltimore Sun

A group of senators has added a twist to Gov. Martin O'Malley's proposal to take guns from the subjects of protective orders, voting to make it easier for domestic violence victims to get guns of their own.

By a 6-5 decision, the Senate Judicial Proceedings Committee amended a bill last week that would require a judge to confiscate firearms when granting a final protective order. They changed the legislation to include a provision that the judge help speed a petitioner's application for a permit to carry a weapon.

The House of Delegates has already approved the governor's measure on final protective orders - and rejected similar attempts to give victims easier access to firearms.

The Senate alteration could doom the final protective order bill if the House and Senate cannot work out their differences.

"I know the House did not want this," said Sen. Anthony Muse, a Prince George's County Democrat who offered the amendment to his fellow committee members on Thursday. "But the reality is, there are victims the police can't protect."

A spokesman for O'Malley, a Democrat, said it is too early to worry about the future of the protective order legislation.

The Senate could strip out Muse's amendment when it takes up the bill this week. If not, a conference committee of senators and delegates would take up the matter.

Republican Del. Tony McConkey of Anne Arundel County pushed a similar bill in the House to ease the gun-application process for victims of domestic violence. Del. Michael E. Smigiel, a Cecil County Republican, offered an amendment, which would have done the same thing, to another bill. Both were handily defeated after heated debates on the House floor.

McConkey and Smigiel, as well as other Republicans who spoke up during the House debates said it was hypocritical to take guns from suspected abusers while not trying to help victims protect themselves.

Support for that argument was divided on the Senate panel. Sen. Brian E. Frosh, a Montgomery County Democrat and chairman of the Judicial Proceedings Committee, said he did not support the amendment "because it isn't appropriate or necessary."

Muse said he viewed it as on point because "the theme of the bill is protection, and protection should go both ways."

Victims rights groups oppose the idea, saying guns and domestic violence are a bad mix, no matter who is in possession of the weapon. During the House debate, Del. Sue Hecht, a Frederick County Democrat who has been active for more than a decade in domestic violence prevention programs, said state police told her they did not deny any permits last year requested by abuse victims.

If it becomes law, the person who was awarded a final protective order would have to meet all of the standards now in place for being able to carry a firearm, a permit issued by the Maryland State Police. However, the judge issuing the order would be able to expedite the process, Muse said.

As a pastor, Muse said, he has given eulogies at four recent services for victims of domestic violence. He said some victims are "helpless and in utter fear and should be able to get guns if they want them."

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