A bill banning so-called assault weapons is shaping up to be the major battle over firearms in the current session of the Maryland General Assembly, with the idea getting a nod from Senate President Thomas V. “Mike” Miller Jr. and a broad swath of liberal Democratic lawmakers, according to The Gazette.
The bill, sponsored by Sen. Robert J. Garagiola (D-15th Dist.) of Germantown and Del. Neil F. Quinter (D-13th Dist.) of Columbia, would ban not only the semi-automatic Uzis, AK-47s and other guns included in the federal assault weapons ban set to expire this year, but also copycats and other firearms, such as the Bushmaster rifle used in the 2002 “Beltway sniper” murder spree.
Miller, who has criticized Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. (R) for voting against previous gun bans, stopped short of saying the bill will pass. But if Miller decides to get behind the bill, he will find breaking a sure filibuster on the issue easier now that the vote needed to end a filibuster has changed from two-thirds (32 votes) to three-fifths (29 votes). Ehrlich has long opposed gun bans, but he may not want an “assault weapons” ban hotly opposed by many Republicans to reach his desk, given that the issue has proven popular in polls in Maryland.
The gun issue could induce Miller (D-Dist. 27) of Chesapeake Beach to break his alliance with Ehrlich on slots and other issues, much as he did last year when he defeated Lynn Y. Buhl as the governor’s environmental secretary nominee.
Sen. Alexander X. Mooney (R-3rd Dist.) of Frederick, an ardent gun rights advocate, defended the firearms as “sport utility rifles.”
He said fully automatic machineguns have long been banned, and giving people guns—including semi-automatic Uzis—would make them safer. He also questioned statistics cited by anti-gun supporters that the federal ban has cut crime and assault weapon traces used in crimes. He decried the proposal as part of a step-by-step plan to ban all guns. Mooney is considering a bill expanding the right to carry guns.
Although prospects are looking up in the Senate, the bill faces a tough hurdle in the House from Judiciary Chairman Joseph F. Vallario Jr. (D-27th Dist.) of Upper Marlboro, who is skeptical of the need for new gun laws.
Vallario said he has a lot of questions about the ban, mainly about how it differs from the soon-to-expire federal ban and what impact it will have on existing guns.
Del. Carmen Amedori (R-Dist. 5A) of Westminster, a gun rights advocate, said she has always expected the House to be key in preserving gun rights once Frosh became chairman of Judicial Proceedings.
A rally for the ban held in early January at the Chevy Chase home of CeaseFire Maryland Executive Director Leah Barrett attracted a veritable mob of elected officials, from possible gubernatorial candidates Montgomery County Executive Douglas M. Duncan (D) and Del. Peter V.R. Franchot (D-20th Dist.) of Takoma Park to Frosh and US Rep. Christopher Van Hollen Jr. (D-8th Dist.) of Kensington, The Gazette reported.
Van Hollen noted that prospects of passing an assault weapons ban are better with Frosh as the Judicial Proceedings chairman than in earlier years when Sen. Walter M. Baker relished making mincemeat out of gun control proposals. Baker was defeated in 2002.
There were even a few Republicans at Barrett’s home, led by County Councilman Howard A. Denis (R-Dist. 1) of Chevy Chase. With Constance A. Morella’s defeat by Van Hollen in 2002, Denis, a former state senator, may be the most liberal elected Republican in the state.
While supporters were meeting inside at the anti-gun reception, a band of gun rights proponents protested outside.