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Gun Bill Passes Senate
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February 28, 2013
by Karen Hosler
After breaking a Republican filibuster, the state Senate voted 28 to 19 today to approve a sweeping new gun control measure backed by Governor Martin O’Malley. Focus of the spirited debate now turns to the House. The Senate’s orderly noontime finish of this week’s gun control debate gave little hint of the long hours of lilting oratory and dilatory delaying tactics—except for Senate President Mike Miller’s obvious exhaustion.
It’s not over because the bill goes to the House now and the speaker’s divided the bill among several committees. So, I’m not sure what kind of a hodge-podge, how it’s going to come back. But I think we’ve set the standard. We’ve adopted a number of compromise amendments that make the bill better in the eyes of both sides.
Inspired by mass shootings in Connecticut and elsewhere, the measure would ban military-style assault weapons and large magazine clips, but continue to allow hunting rifles and shotguns. But by far the most controversial provisions of the measure would require hand-gun buyers to be licensed and fingerprinted by the state police. An attempt to remove the finger-printing requirement failed on a 23-23 tie vote Wednesday night with Miller supporting the opponents. Seven Democrats voted with all 12 Republicans against the bill on the final tally.
If you have a gun, you’re not going to be happy with the bill. I have guns and I’m not real happy with the bill. But you know our state is very divided in terms of urban and rural areas. In the rural areas, they don’t care for this bill at all, in the urban areas they think it’s very important for public safety and protection against violence.
By far the most vexing issue for the Senate, though, was developing a plan for keeping guns away from the mentally ill. The state’s current law--which prohibits gun purchases by people who have been involuntarily committed to a psychiatric facility for 30 consecutive days or more, was judged too weak.
The senators quickly agreed to drop the 30-day requirement, so that all mental health patients committed to care against their will would not be able to buy a gun unless they prove a return to competency.
But it took many hours of behind the scenes talks to produce a standard for Marylanders who voluntarily seek mental health treatment for ailments—such as eating disorders--that may have no bearing on their ability to safely handle a firearm.
Here’s Baltimore County Democrat Bobby Zirkin:
People should understand there is no magic elixir to this. There’s no possible way you can draw a circle and get the right individuals when you’re dealing with mental health. It’s an impossible task.
Gun rights supporters feared those seeking mental health treatment would be unfairly penalized. Mental health advocates feared that sick people would avoid treatment in order to preserve their right to buy a gun. But all wanted to keep guns away from potential killers.
Zirkin finally came up with a compromise, though, that applies to individuals taken to an emergency room because they are showing signs of being a danger to themselves or others. Those who are examined and sent to a psychiatric facility for admission are presumed ineligible to buy a gun unless they are cleared by their treating psychiatrist. The Zirkin amendment was widely embraced by the Senate late Wednesday night on a vote of 44 to 2.
But the drama that began in the Senate last month when thousands of gun rights supporters turned out for a public hearing, is scheduled to resume tomorrow when crowds on both sides of the issue are expected at the House of Delegates. As Miller said, the gun battle is far from over.
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