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Beretta wooed by other states due to Md. gun bill

ANNAPOLIS — Baltimore’s mayor and police chief urged legislators Friday to pass legislation requiring the training, fingerprinting and licensing of handgun purchasers and the banning of semi-automatic weapons, saying the ready availability of the firearms led to 183 gun deaths in the city last year.

“Gun violence devastates families,” Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake told a joint hearing of the House Judiciary and House Health and Government Operations committees. “Baltimore can be a safer city. We must be a safer city and a safer state.”

Police Commissioner Anthony W. Batts, who has also led police forces in Oakland and Long Beach, Calif., said that “we are losing lives in these cities.”

Batts called the proposed 2013 Firearm Safety Act “an opportunity for all of us to step up and save lives.”

But opponents of Gov. Martin O’Malley’s signature gun-control measure assailed the proposed restrictions as a violation of the constitutional Second Amendment right of law-abiding citizens to keep and bear arms.

Jeff Reh, general counsel of Beretta USA Corp., said the Italy-based gun maker might have to move its U.S. headquarters from Accokeek, in Prince George’s County, to a neighboring state if the semi-automatic weapons ban becomes law. Reh said he will meet with company leaders in Europe next week to discuss that possibility.

O’Malley, with the legislation, is essentially saying to gun manufacturers that “we don’t like the type of products you make,” Reh told the committees. “This issue is literally a matter of life or death for our organization.”

The measure, which would go into effect Oct. 1, would require purchasers of handguns to first complete a Maryland State Police-approved firearms training course within a year of applying for the license. Law enforcement officers and members of the U.S. military would be exempt from having to take the training course.

The legislation, House Bill 294, would also give owners of semi-automatic assault weapons until Oct. 31 to register their firearms to be in lawful possession of them. In addition, the measure would reduce from 20 to 10 rounds the detachable magazine capacity permitted to be bought and sold in Maryland.

Maryland Attorney General Douglas F. Gansler testified in favor of the bill, saying the training, licensing and fingerprinting requirements would be “a very, very strong disincentive” to the illicit practice of people purchasing handguns for individuals who themselves cannot due to their criminal records.

These so-called “straw purchasers” would not wish to go through the time and expense of training, fingerprinting and licensing, which would carrying a $100 fee, Gansler said.

The House hearing followed the Senate’s passage Thursday of its amended version of the governor’s bill.

Unlike the House bill, the Senate-passed measure would require that the training course be taken within three years of the license application, which would have a $25 fee. Senate Bill 281 would also give owners of semi-automatic assault weapons until Dec. 31 to register them.