O'Malley Proposals Would Prohibit Guns for Targets of Protective Orders

By John Wagner
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, October 24, 2008

Maryland Gov. Martin O'Malley said yesterday that he probably will sponsor legislation requiring the surrender of all firearms by anyone subject to a final protective order limiting contact with an abused spouse or partner.

Similar bills have been successfully resisted by gun-rights activists, but advocates for domestic violence victims expressed hope that O'Malley's involvement could lead to passage in the upcoming legislative session, which starts in January.

O'Malley (D) signaled his intentions in a brief interview after an event in Towson during which he announced $1.8 million in federal grants for domestic violence programs and the expansion of a state council on preventing family violence.

The governor said he is interested in resurrecting two bills that failed by lopsided votes in a House committee during the previous legislative session.

One bill would require judges to include the firearms prohibition when issuing a final protective order. That restriction is now at the judge's discretion.

The other would tighten the state protective order law to include all firearms. Currently, handguns are subject to protective orders, for example, but rifles are not.

Both bills were supported by the Maryland State Police last session but not included in a package of "administration bills" put forward by the governor. Such administration bills typically are given heightened consideration by lawmakers.

Asked whether the domestic violence bills would be part of his formal agenda in January, O'Malley said: "It's very likely that they will be."

Jodi Finkelstein, executive director of the Domestic Violence Center of Howard County, said she was "personally thrilled" about O'Malley's interest in the bills and said his support could help significantly.

The two bills were defeated last session by the House Judiciary Committee, 17 to 2 and 17 to 3.

House Minority Whip Christopher B. Shank (R-Washington) said he and other judiciary members were sensitive to concerns involving the constitutional right to bear arms, as well as questions about how the legislation would affect police officers who carry guns on the job.

Shank said the committee has a history of independence that he was not sure O'Malley could break. "Intellectually, I think it would be difficult for us to turn on a dime like that," Shank said.

Del. Samuel I. Rosenberg (D-Baltimore), the committee's vice chairman, said members have also been reluctant to limit judges' discretion. But Rosenberg said O'Malley's support could create "a new environment."

"If the governor makes a forceful and effective case, the vote can change," he said.

Yesterday's event in Towson began on a personal note, as Lt. Gov. Anthony Brown (D) recalled the recent fatal shooting of his cousin by an ex-boyfriend in Montgomery County. "My family was forced to confront the tragic results of domestic violence," Brown said.

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