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Gun control bill passes, but gun advocates make their voices heard

grim reaper

A man dressed as the Grim Reaper stands outside the State House in Annapolis. He said passing Gov. O'Malley's gun control bill would amount to the death of the Bill of Rights. (Kelsey Miller/The Daily Record)

A marathon voting session on Gov. Martin O’Malley’s controversial gun control bill brought a slew of opponents to Annapolis on Friday to pressure delegates and speak out for Second Amendment rights.

Gun advocates packed the House Office Building before the Judiciary and Health and Government Operations committees took up numerous amendments to the bill, which would ban assault rifles, limit magazines to 10 bullets and require buyers to register their fingerprints before purchasing a gun. (Both panels ultimately passed the bill 27-18 Friday night after hours of debate.)

Many in the crowd wore stickers reading “2014,” a not-so-subtle reminder to delegates that a vote for the measure could have consequences at the polls next year.

“It does have its ramifications when you take rights away,” said Jim Green, 65, a lifelong resident of Maryland who lives in New Windsor.

Before the voting session, those that could not fit in the packed hearing room milled around the lobby awaiting the arrival of delegates. As staunch gun control opponent Del. Michael Smigiel Sr., R-Upper Shore, passed by, he was treated to an ovation.

The fervor of the debate over amendments was matched by the enthusiasm of the gun control opponents who filled an overflow room down the hall. Watching the proceedings on a projector, they erupted in applause as Republican lawmakers raised objections to the bill.

One sticking point came when Del. Michael McDermott, R-Wicomico and Worcester, moved to strike a requirement forcing buyers to complete a proficiency test when purchasing a firearm.

“I’m afraid that it will be a de facto gun ban if you cannot comply with these provisions,” McDermott’s said, to the great pleasure of onlookers.

The atmosphere of the overflow room contrasted the subdued nature of the audience in the hearing room, where only a few outbursts occurred but were quelled quickly by Judiciary Chairman Joseph Vallario, D-Prince George’s.

The attitude of gun advocates was best summed up in response to a debate over a measure to exempt state militias, both official and unofficial, from the bill’s requirements.

Who is the unofficial militia, some delegates asked.

The answer came from the back of overflow room.

“We’re here,” a man bellowed, followed by raucous applause from the rest of the crowd.