With little more than a week remaining in the session, and as the Newtown, Conn., tragedy made headlines again Thursday with President Obama meeting with victims’ family members, the bill appeared on the move.
On Friday, the House Judiciary Committee and the chamber’s Health and Government Operations Committee, or the HGO, are scheduled to meet for the first time since March 1. The two have joint jurisdiction and are expected to vote on proposed amendments to O’Malley’s bill.
It remains to be seen exactly what this rare joint committee will decide to do and what last-minute compromises will be worked out with the Senate. Here are five questions to keep in mind as the voting begins:
1Will the House committee vote to weaken O’Malley’s proposed assault-weapons ban? Will it even hold a public vote to do so?
Last week, key Democrats on the committee said they were reluctant to go along with O’Malley’s complete ban. They said the committee was weighing whether to keep semiautomatic rifles legal. The weapons were carried by shooters in Aurora, Colo., and Newtown, Conn., but are popular with sportsmen and veterans. They also have been rarely used in Maryland killings.
In recent days, however, pressure on those Democrats from gun-control advocates and the governor’s office appears to have had an effect.
On Thursday, O’Malley sent a letter to supporters with the subject line “It’s time,” noting that it had been 100 days since Newtown. The message urged Marylanders to call delegates and urge passage of his bill.
If the votes aren’t there to weaken O’Malley’s assault-weapons ban, it is unlikely that leaders of the Judiciary Committee will risk a public vote, which could expose supportive Democrats to challenges on the left in next year’s primary.
Although that scenario seems most likely, there also remains a possibility of a public fight among Democrats over the ban. If that happens, it is also possible a majority of the Judiciary could vote to weaken the ban but still be outmaneuvered.
The decision by the speaker of the House of Delegates, Michael E. Busch (D-Anne Arundel), to co-assign the governor’s bill to two committees means it could be advanced to the full House over the objections of a majority in either committee, as long as a majority of the two combined go along. Politically, that’s a strong-arm tactic that the House speaker’s office has seemed keen to avoid.
2How will the House and Senate compromise on mental health?
House lawmakers appear likely to agree with the Senate on a tough, new restriction similar to one in Virginia that bans gun purchases by residents who are committed against their will for psychiatric treatment for any length of time.