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Alexandra Hughes, chief of staff to House of Delegates Speaker Adrienne A. Jones, House Majority Leader Eric Luedtke, Minority Leader Nic Kipke and Minority Whip Kathy Szeliga confer Wednesday after the House debated a bill that would require background checks for private sales of long guns. Jones, a Democrat, had ruled that a Republican amendment violated the House rules.
Alexandra Hughes, chief of staff to House of Delegates Speaker Adrienne A. Jones, House Majority Leader Eric Luedtke, Minority Leader Nic Kipke and Minority Whip Kathy Szeliga confer Wednesday after the House debated a bill that would require background checks for private sales of long guns. Jones, a Democrat, had ruled that a Republican amendment violated the House rules. (Pamela Wood/Baltimore Sun)

Maryland lawmakers are pushing forward a bill that would require background checks for private sales of rifles and shotguns, over the objection of Republicans who say it would do nothing to curb violent crime.

The measure is moving early in the 90-day General Assembly session. Advocates are hoping it will be successful after it failed on the final day of last year’s session. Though the House of Delegates and state Senate both passed versions of the legislation, the differences weren’t worked out before the session ended.

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Delegates spent more than an hour Wednesday debating the merits of the bill in the House before Democrats put a halt to Republican amendments with a procedural move. Debate is set to resume Thursday, the same day activists with the group Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense in America plan to gather in Annapolis for their annual lobbying day.

“They are against background checks,” Democratic Del. Luke Clippinger of Baltimore said of Republicans. “Something that poll after poll, everywhere across the country, shows us again and again — this is something the American people want and people want in the state of Maryland.”

The bill would set a new requirement for background checks for private sales and transfers of long guns such as rifles and shotguns.

Long gun buyers in Maryland currently are required to undergo a federal background check when buying from a licensed firearms dealer or store, but no such requirement exists for private sales.

Gun control advocates consider this a “loophole” that should be closed. Gun rights advocates say the bill would burden large numbers of gun owners who sell and loan guns to friends and colleagues. Both sides spent hours making their case during a public hearing in Annapolis this month.

Republican lawmakers tried to derail the legislation by offering amendments that would have gutted the bill and replaced it with other measures: adding drug possession with the intent to distribute to the definition of a crime of violence; making the straw purchase of a gun for someone else a felony, and increasing penalties for theft of a firearm.

Del. Vanessa Atterbeary, a Howard County Democrat who is the bill’s chief sponsor, said the amendments were “a complete and utter distraction” from the goal of the bill, which is to essentially require universal background checks for guns in Maryland.

The first two amendments were defeated along party lines. Then, in a moment of procedural drama, House Speaker Adrienne A. Jones declared the third amendment in violation of the House of Delegates Rules of Procedure. It’s against the rules to submit an amendment that strikes the contents of a bill and replaces it with another measure, according to Jones and Democratic leaders.

After that ruling, House Minority Leader Nic Kipke said he’d seek advice from the state attorney general on whether the rules were interpreted correctly.

In a news conference after the debate, Kipke said that requiring background checks on long guns would do nothing to stem violent crime, particularly in Baltimore and its suburbs, where most gun crimes are committed with handguns.

“This General Assembly is doing nothing to protect people in our communities,” said Kipke, an Anne Arundel County Republican.

Kipke said the speaker’s ruling was “oppressive” to the Republicans, who are far outnumbered by Democrats in the 141-member House of Delegates.

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