ANNAPOLIS — The first salvo in what has become a heated debate over the governor’s proposed gun control legislation was fired this week when hundreds of Marylander’s from all over the state rallied in opposition to what they perceive as an assault on their Second Amendment rights.
In the wake of the Newtown, Conn. tragedy in December, Maryland Gov. Martin O’Malley has proposed stringent changes to the state’s gun laws which, if approved, would make them among the toughest in the country. Among other things, the governor’s bill proposes a ban on assault weapons and new licensing requirements that would require gun purchasers to submit to digital fingerprinting. The bill also seeks to enhance school security and expand the number of categories of mental health problems that could preclude some state residents from owning guns.
The bill got its first hearing on Wednesday in a Senate committee during which hundreds signed up to testify either in favor or in opposition. Before that hearing, however, the largest group of gun rights advocates, including a large contingent from the lower shore, piled into the areas in and around the Senate building to voice their displeasure with the proposed legislation.
“It was certainly an interesting day,” said Senator Jim Mathias (D-38). “The governor’s gun control bill was being heard in the Senate, and there were hundreds of people here from all over the state. There was a very large contingent from the Eastern Shore here. They’re very concerned about their Second Amendment rights.”
Delegate Mike McDermott (R-38B) was also on hand although the bill has not come before the House yet. McDermott two weeks ago was named to a special House committee put together to analyze the governor’s proposed gun control legislation and the delegate had a vested interest in the outcome of the rally and the hearing on Wednesday.
“Yesterday was an incredible day,” he said. “It was incredible to see the turnout in opposition to the governor’s gun bill and in favor of the Second Amendment. There were buses of people from Worcester County and as far away as the far reaches of Western Maryland and everywhere in between.”
McDermott said the assembled throng pushed closer to the Senate building in an attempt to hear what was going on inside. He said many waited in vain for several hours to testify before being rebuffed.
“They came close to shutting down the Senate building,” he said. “It was a great rally. I have never seen the level of angst for any proposed piece of legislation as we saw on Wednesday. Unfortunately, the chairman shut down the debate after about eight hours and there were tons of people from all over including a large group from the Eastern Shore that signed up but didn’t get a chance to testify.”
On Wednesday, O’Malley opened the hearing by pitching the legislation he believes includes a common sense approach to keeping Marylanders safe and reducing gun violence. He said the proposed legislation is not aimed at hunters and sportsmen and the bill would not prevent law-abiding citizens from purchasing and owning handguns in Maryland. O’Malley also pointed out his proposed gun control bill is consistent with the Constitution and would not infringe on Second Amendment rights after careful analysis by the state’s Attorney General Doug Gansler.
“Let me be clear: we are not trying to ban handguns,” he said during his testimony. “This law protects legal gun ownership. It is designed to stop criminals from buying guns. Let me be clear about another thing: we are licensing handguns, not hunting rifles. We are committed to protecting hunters and their traditions. This legislation bans the sale of military-style assault weapons. We are also proposing a limit on the size of high capacity magazines.”
O’Malley said the political climate regarding gun control has led to distortions of his specific intent with his measures.
“The solutions we’re proposing are not about banning all guns or casting blame on everything but guns,” the governor said in his testimony. “They are about putting the focus on saving lives with a comprehensive approach that puts the focus on the practical, common sense things that we can do together to save lives. This isn’t about ideology, it is about public safety. Doing common sense things that work to save lives. … These are human problems we are confronted with, and so too are their solutions. The solutions we’re proposing are not about banning all guns or casting blame on everything but guns. They are about putting the focus on saving lives with a comprehensive approach that puts the focus on the practical, common sense things that we can do together to save lives.”
McDermott said he disagreed with much of the governor’s position.
“This is what happens when people who don’t know anything about guns try to make gun laws,” he said. “Some of the stuff in this bill is just silly. Not only is it not enforceable, a lot of it just seems arbitrary.”