- The Washington Times - Wednesday, March 3, 2004

ANNAPOLIS — A Democratic senator is bucking the General Assembly’s committee system by trying to wrest a proposed ban against assault weapons from the committee that will likely defeat it.

State Sen. Robert J. Garagiola, Montgomery Democrat, wants to take the bill from the Judicial Proceedings Committee and bring it to the full Senate, which will likely vote in approval.

He thinks such a move is worthwhile because Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr., a Republican, will sign the bill.

“I don’t think he will veto it,” Mr. Garagiola said.

Mr. Garagiola said even if fellow Democrats kill his legislation — a backup if Congress liftsthefederal ban in September — he will use obscure General Assembly rules to sidestep state lawmakers so the bill can reach Mr. Ehrlich’s desk.

Mr. Garagiola could use Senate Rule 43 that was last used in 2000 to pass a gun bill concerning trigger locks.

The rule calls for circumventing the General Assembly’s strong committee system by asking senators to hear the bill on the floor. The maneuver needs a simple majority vote.

Mr. Garagiola could use the lesser-known Rule 42-b to get 16 members to sign a petition to send the bill to the floor. He could move that his bill be substituted for an unfavorable report should the committee vote against it or amend a similar bill to reflect his bill.

“I am examining all options,” Mr. Garagiola said yesterday . “I am not ruling out anything at this point.”

He will likely need a backup plan because fellow Democratic Sen. John A. Giannetti Jr. is the swing vote on the 11-member committee and will likely vote against the bill.

“I talked to the governor and he has said he would veto it,” said Mr. Giannetti, a self-described moderate from Anne Arundel and Prince George’s counties.

“Why would I vote for a bill that … doesn’t become law?” he asked. “The fact is, criminals can get weapons with or without the ban. I just think we need to enforce the laws that we have.”

Mr. Garagiola disagrees.

“I think if we get it to the governor’s desk we have a shot at making this law in Maryland,” he said.

Mr. Ehrlich has publicly questioned the effectiveness of many gun-control laws in Maryland and has said he is open to reviewing them.

Maryland banned a number of military-style assault pistols about 10 years ago but allows the sale of 45 models of semiautomatic assault weapons if a buyer passes a criminal background check and agrees to a seven-day waiting period.

The federal law, which expires on Sept. 13, prohibits the sale of guns that have two or more characteristics of an assault weapon, such as a grenade launcher. There are 19 weapons banned under the law.

The proposal to the Maryland General Assembly would ban the sales of the 45 models that are now legal but would not affect guns already sold.

“We are not talking about taking away someone’s right,” Mr. Garagiola said.

A similar bill is being sponsored in the House by Delegate Neil F. Quinter, a Howard Democrat.

Mr. Garagiola thinks the bill also has enough House votes to pass and is tight enough to keep manufacturers from changing a gun’s name or minor features to bypass the law.

This is the second straight year Mr. Garagiola and Mr. Quinter have filed such bills. But they now have the support of Baltimore Mayor Martin O’Malley and Montgomery County Executive Douglas M. Duncan, both Democrats, and Mr. Ehrlich’s chief rivals in state politics.

The U.S. Senate voted this week in favor of a bill to extend the federal ban on weapons and to require background checks for buyers at private gun shows.

President Bush and gun manufacturers oppose the Senate bill, which includes provisions to force the Republican-controlled House to accept lawsuits against gun dealers.

Five other states have imposed such firearm restrictions. Connecticut and Kentucky are considering similar bans.

Sen. Brian E. Frosh, Montgomery Democrat and chairman of the Judicial Proceedings Committee, has said he supports the state ban but does not support using obscure rules to force the bill past his committee.

Mr. Frosh said he was unsure when the committee would vote on the bill, but that it would “probably” not be this week.

Mr. Garagiola said he does not see the split over the ban as a partisan issue.

“Democrats that can support it should,” he said. “I am not looking at the politics of this. I am looking at the majority of the senators and voters who say they support this legislation. I think we should let the will of the majority have its way.”

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