Md. Senate votes to keep handgun licensing rules

ANNAPOLIS | The Maryland Senate voted Wednesday to keep one of the strongest components of Gov. Martin O’Malley’s gun control bill — a licensing provision for handguns that would require gun buyers to submit fingerprints to state police.

The Senate rejected an amendment by Sen. Allan H. Kittleman to remove the licensing rules from the bill. The vote was 27-20. Mr. Kittleman, Howard Republican, argued that the provision was too restrictive.

“I think we shouldn’t be licensing a constitutional right,” Mr. Kittleman said, referring to the right to bear arms.
But Sen. Brian E. Frosh, Montgomery Democrat, said the licensing component is the most important piece of the bill. He cited several states with similar laws that have lower rates of gun violence, including Connecticut, New York, New Jersey and Massachusetts.

“It reduces crime when people have to get these licenses,” Mr. Frosh said.

The Senate convened early Wednesday to begin a day of debate on amendments. Senators were scheduled to work into the evening. Differences over one important component, regarding firearms access for people with mental illnesses, remained unresolved.

Early in the day, the Senate delayed taking action on a part of the bill would bar people who have been involuntarily committed from possessing a rifle or shotgun. The bill already includes a ban on their owning other types of guns.

Mental health issues related to firearms access have proved a contentious issue. A Senate committee last week tightened the bill to prohibit anyone who is involuntarily committed from possessing a firearm.

Sen. E.J. Pipkin, Cecil Republican, said the bill went too far and broke new ground by taking basic firearms rights away.

“This is the creep,” Mr. Pipkin said. “This is the one that takes you into a whole other realm of regulation as far as that’s concerned.”

Mr. Frosh, however, pointed to recent mass shootings by individuals suffering from mental illness — the 2011 shooting rampage in Arizona that wounded then-Rep. Gabrielle Giffords; last year’s shooting in a Colorado movie theater that killed 12 people and wounded 58; and the December shooting in Newtown, Conn., where a gunman killed 20 children and six adults before committing suicide.

“We can stop some of these crimes if we can keep guns out of the hands of people who are mentally ill,” said Mr. Frosh, the chairman of the Senate Judicial Proceedings Committee. “If we haven’t drawn precisely the right lines, we’ve drawn pretty good lines. An involuntary commitment is somebody who is a danger to himself and others.”

Sen. Paul G. Pinsky, Prince George’s Democrat, said the bill goes beyond simply addressing high-profile rampage shootings with mass casualties, noting the gun violence that is claiming lives in less publicized crimes in Maryland.

“I want to reduce that violence, and I think we all want to and that means taking action,” Mr. Pinsky said. “Is it the perfect action? It may not be, but if we get 90 percent of it right and we can at the end of the day or in two years or four years or five years reduce that stream of illegal guns on the street, it’s going to help all of us.”

The Senate was scheduled to continue debating amendments into the evening. A vote on the entire bill is expected this week.

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