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Contentious gun control debate winding down

It has spanned nearly the entirety of the General Assembly‘s 90-day session, but a contentious debate over gun control legislation first introduced by Gov. Martin O’Malley appears to be drawing to a close.

House Speaker Michael E. Busch presides over the House of Delegates during final debate of the gun control bill. (Alexander Pyles/The Daily Record)

The Senate Judicial Proceedings Committee agreed on Thursday afternoon to concur with amendments made to Senate Bill 281 by the House of Delegates, setting up a climactic final vote in the Senate as early as Thursday evening.

The final product, which cannot be further amended, would constitute one of the nation’s toughest gun laws. The core of O’Malley’s original proposal — requiring handgun purchasers to obtain a license and surrender fingerprints, outlawing many semiautomatic rifles and limiting magazine sizes to 10 rounds — have remained intact.

The Senate passed the bill 28-19 in February after a marathon voting session in the Judicial Proceedings Committee and a week-long floor debate. A special House work group then spent more than a month meeting behind closed doors to consider the Senate’s amendments and further changes to the bill. House Speaker Michael E. Busch, D-Anne Arundel, took a special interest in the bill from the start.

After the Judiciary Committee and Health and Government Operations Committee — meeting jointly — held its own marathon voting session last week, the House spent nearly 11 hours over the course of two days this week debating before ultimately passing an amended version of SB 281 by a 78 to 61 vote Wednesday afternoon.

Afterward, Busch defended the bill that at times brought enormous crowds to Annapolis to protest the sweeping legislation. Busch pointed out that licensing handguns and limiting magazines would save lives.

“It polarizes a lot of people,” Busch said. “But it does nothing to impede upon anyone’s right to purchase an unregulated gun.”

The divisive and difficult debate may soon come to an end.