UPDATE: 1:30 p.m.

With a huge gathering of gun-rights advocates amassed in opposition outside the Maryland State House, Gov. Martin O’Malley on Wednesday asked lawmakers to approve his far-reaching gun-control legislation.

O’Malley cast assault rifles as “military weapons” that have no place in society other than on a battlefield. And he said his strict licensing requirement and new mental health rules on gun ownership would save lives.

“We choose to take on gun violence because every life is precious,” O’Malley told the Senate Judiciary Committee at the outset of a hearing expected to last into the night. “There is no tragedy worse than the violent taking of a child’s life.”

O’Malley said nobody could look at the tragedy in Newtown, Conn., and ask: “Is there not something more that we could not and should not do?”

O’Malley spoke briefly, but on the most contentious aspect of his bill, which would require digital fingerprinting of prospective gun owners. O’Malley cited research that he said showed the requirement has, in other states , cut down on so-called straw purchases, when one person buys a gun for another who would not otherwise qualify.

The restriction is in place in a handful of states, including New York, New Jersey and Massachusetts.

O’Malley said reasonable people and neighbors can disagree about gun control, but he closed his speech saying his package was a balanced approach — tougher than existing laws, but not an attempt to infringe on law abiding gun owners:

“This is not about banning all guns, or passing blame on everything but guns. It’s a comprehensive approach … this is not about ideology, this is about public safety.”

Original Post

For a day, Annapolis is about to serve as the epicenter in the national debate over gun control.

Gun-rights advocates have begun amassing outside the Maryland State House to protest Gov. Martin O’Malley’s proposed gun-control legislation, as well as that being pushed by President Obama in the wake of the school shooting massacre in Newtown, Conn.

By coincidence, Obama is also in town to talk gun control. He’s huddled in a private meeting with Senate Democrats, who are on a retreat about a mile away at an Annapolis hotel.

The day’s main event will be the first public hearing of O’Malley’s proposed gun bill. The governor is seeking to institute some of the nation’s strictest gun-licensing requirements, ban assault weapons, and expand the number of people who can be disallowed from owning a firearm because of mental health problems.

Over 200 people have signed up to testify for and against the measure. O’Malley is expected to open the hearing with a plea for lawmakers to come together on gun control.

His proposal, however, is already caught in a tug of war between members of his own party.

Liberal Democrats, intent on capitalizing on public support for gun safety after the massacre, have introduced more than dozen pieces of legislation that add several additional gun-control measures.

Some more conservative — and powerful — Democrats, meanwhile, say O’Malley’s plan goes too far, and they are working to carve it up into pieces that might make the licensing portion more difficult to pass.

Check back at The Post’s Maryland Politics page for updates from the rally and hearing.

Or follow the debate here on Twitter or Facebook.

Live audio of the hearing can be found on the state’s Web site.