ANNAPOLIS | Gun control advocates in Maryland were bracing for an inevitable challenge to a law giving the state some of the strictest weapons prohibitions in the nation, even as they gathered Thursday to applaud Gov. Martin O'Malley for signing the bill he shepherded through the General Assembly.
Surrounded by a standing-room only crowd in the Maryland State House, Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller Jr. shrugged off the threat of a lawsuit from the National Rifle Association challenging the new regulations, calling the legislation "a common-sense bill."
"They know if this went to the American people, it would overwhelmingly pass," the Prince George's County Democrat said, referring to a referendum effort abandoned by the NRA and its supporters. "We don't need silencers in Maryland. We don't need grenade launchers in Maryland. This is a public safety bill."
The law adds 45 guns to a list of banned weapons, but has a clause that grandfathers people who own or purchase their firearms before it takes effect Oct. 1. The legislative package also includes a 10-round limit on handgun magazines along with a requirement that prospective gun owners obtain licenses for weapons and provide their fingerprints as part of the application process.
Mr. O'Malley, a Democrat, said the fingerprint requirement has helped reduce gun-related deaths in other states.
"This legislation is a part of that," he said.
Before the law takes effect, it still has hurdles to clear.
In mid-April, the NRA announced it would sue the state over the regulations, which the group said infringe upon the Second Amendment right to keep and bear arms. Supporters of the lawsuit have formed a political action committee called Take Back Maryland to fund the effort, and members have been holding town hall meetings to explain the provisions of the bill, called the Firearm Safety Act.
"We're trying to figure out what the bill really says, because so much of it doesn't make sense," said John Josselyn, legislative vice president for the Associated Gun Clubs of Baltimore.
The online petition service MDPetitions.com announced its support for the lawsuit rather than a petition drive to put the legislation to referendum, a move many found surprising since the organization had already submitted petition language for approval from the state's Board of Elections.
Earlier this week, housewife and political activist Sue Payne of Potomac said she would be taking up the referendum effort. For that, she must collect more than 18,000 signatures — a third of the required total 55,736 signatures — by May 31 to meet an initial requirement. If successful, she must collect the remainder by the end of June.
Mr. Josselyn said putting the new law to referendum could be accomplished "in the blink of an eye."
"But why would we want to do a referendum, win it, only to have [Maryland lawmakers] bring back that very same bill during a lame duck session?" he asked.
While a referendum would mean postponing implementation of the law, Vincent DeMarco, president of Marylanders to Prevent Gun Violence, said he was confident that whether it's a ballot issue or a court decision, "whatever they try to do, they will fail."
Similar to the public-education approach of gun rights supporters, Mr. DeMarco said his group has scheduled television ads to run next week to "explain to voters how effective this law is."
"Five states have [fingerprinting]," he said. "The more people know this, the more strongly they'll support this."
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