Past a deadline to move hundreds of bills, Maryland’s House of Delegates turned its attention back to Gov. Martin O’Malley’s sweeping gun-control legislation on Tuesday.
House Speaker Michael E. Busch (D-Anne Arundel) was expected to meet before the end of the day with Democratic leaders of the House Judiciary Committee, who have said publicly that they would like to limit the scope of O’Malley’s proposed assault-weapons ban, possibly to exclude many semiautomatic rifles.
Lawmakers from both parties said they were also struggling with whether to go along with the Democratic governor’s proposal to limit the capacity of firearm magazines and clips to 10 bullets.
Busch remains strongly in favor of the 10-bullet limit and a ban on all assault rifles. In pressing his case Tuesday, he was joined by members of the Maryland chapter of Moms Demand Action and other gun-control activists. Dozens of women, some with children in tow, amassed outside the State House and sought to corner members of the House Judiciary Committee to urge a “yes” vote on O’Malley’s plan.
In one ominous exchange for advocates, an aide to Del. Curtis S. Anderson (D-Baltimore), a member of the committee, warned them to be happy with incremental progress.
“I know you are worried about a watered-down version of the bill, that there are amendments that will take out the teeth,” said Pat Bruce, Anderson’s chief of staff. “Something is better than nothing, and if you can’t get everything you want this year, then there is always next year.”
Baltimore resident Mary Jo Kirschman, 66, of Marylanders to Prevent Gun Violence, shot back: “But that’s another year of murders.”
With less than two weeks remaining in the legislative session, proponents of O’Malley’s gun legislation see little time to lose. The House Judiciary Committee must meet with the House Government and Operations Committee, which has been reviewing provisions for when to ban mental-health patients from purchasing firearms. The committees are expected to vote together on changes for the full House to consider.
A House floor debate on the bill and those changes could then last days, taking the measure into next week. That would leave less than a week for the House and Senate to work out differences in conference and bring back the bill to both chambers for final votes before adjourning at midnight April 8.
Several lawmakers close to the effort said the committee vote, perhaps on Wednesday, would be key to determining if O’Malley’s assault-weapons ban and other key provisions would remain intact. The bill would also require gun buyers to undergo fingerprinting and training.
The House is expected to differ from the Senate on another provision dealing with mental-health patients. As in the Senate, House lawmakers favor banning guns from all residents who are committed against their will for psychiatric treatment. Unlike the Senate, the House would place no new restrictions on patients who voluntarily seek inpatient treatment.
The Senate had sought to ban guns from those who end up in emergency rooms for mental-health reasons and who are then taken directly to mental-health facilities, whether they agree to go voluntarily or not.
Currently, patients voluntarily committed for 30 consecutive days or more are banned from buying guns.
Kate Havard contributed to this report.