With gun bill vote, both sides weigh next steps

ANNAPOLIS — Maryland gun-control advocates hope key parts of a comprehensive measure aimed at controlling gun violence will take root in other states grappling to limit gun access by criminals and the mentally ill in the aftermath of the Newtown, Conn., massacre. Opponents are gauging interest in trying to uproot the bill at home by petitioning it to the ballot to give voters a chance to reject it next year.

Lt. Gov. Anthony Brown, a Democrat, praised the sweeping provisions a day after final passage. One of the strongest, which opponents repeatedly tried to strip out, requires handgun purchasers to submit fingerprints to the state police. It’s the first time in nearly 20 years a state has approved a fingerprinting licensing law for guns.

Brown said while the bill won’t rid every act of violence from Maryland communities, it will go a long way toward reducing gun crime. The measure also prohibits anyone who is involuntarily committed to a mental health facility from owning a gun. Other key parts of the bill include an assault weapons ban and a limit on magazines to 10 bullets.

“It’s an important step for Maryland, and we certainly hope that other states and the federal government, our Congress, can step up and follow the president’s lead, follow Maryland’s lead and impose stricter licensing requirements,” Brown said.

Beyond signatures

Delegate Neil Parrott, a Washington County Republican, has led petition drives to put other legislation passed by the Democrat-controlled Legislature on the ballot last year.

And he has put together a list of measures this year to get a sense of which ones residents would be most willing to support petitioning to the ballot. Opponents would need to get 55,736 verified signatures to do it. Separate legislation to repeal the death penalty, to allow same-day voter registration and to implement the federal health care overhaul in Maryland also are being weighed for petition drives.

Last year was the first time in two decades that a measure passed by the Legislature and signed into law by the governor was successfully petitioned to the ballot. The petition drives were aided by an online website called MDPetitions.com that made it easier to get signatures in to be verified by the Maryland State Board of Elections.

Nevertheless, voters upheld three laws petitioned to the ballot, including same-sex marriage, in-state tuition for some students who are living in the U.S. illegally and the state’s congressional redistricting map.

Parrott said he learned last year that a referendum effort needs more than just signatures. It also needs financial support to campaign up to Election Day, so he will be looking to see if there are partners to fund an actual campaign.

“So, now we have to make sure that that happens from the very beginning,” Parrott said.

Hearings and rallies on the gun-control bill brought thousands of opponents over a variety of days to Annapolis, where large overflow rooms were made available for people to watch legislative proceedings.

“I would suspect that with what we saw here in Annapolis that that’s going to have a high response,” said Parrott, who noted he is polling people who have been involved with MDPetitions.com before to gauge interest.

Stocking up now

Critics point to the skyrocketing number of gun purchases in recent months. They say the measure is ironically increasing the number of guns owned by Maryland residents who are buying them before they become illegal.

Delegate Luiz Simmons, D-Montgomery, who ultimately supported the bill, noted during a voting session last week that it will take a generation for the assault weapons ban to have an effect, as he tried unsuccessfully to eliminate a provision that allows people to keep the banned assault weapons if they are ordered before the ban takes effect in October.

Greg Shipley, a spokesman for the Maryland State Police, said what was once a seven-day waiting period to process an incoming purchase application for regulated firearms now takes about seven weeks, because requests have jumped by thousands. Shipley said the biggest increase in recent months was from November to December, when requests went from 7,247 to 11,560.

“The number is unprecedented,” Shipley said. “The Maryland State Police has conducted background investigations for firearms at least since the early 1970s. Never in our history have we seen these types of purchase numbers.”

Model legislation

Supporters of the measure cite polls saying a strong majority of Maryland residents support the bill.

Vincent DeMarco, president of Marylanders to Prevent Gun Violence, said the state has provided a model for common-sense gun violence prevention.

“We urge other lawmakers on the state and federal level to take similar steps to save lives and keep communities safe,” DeMarco said.

Erin Gormley, Mid-Atlantic regional manager for the organization Moms Demand Action For Gun Sense in America, said the group with 80 chapters in 38 states will be working to call attention to the Maryland law.

“It’s a huge, tremendous step forward in preventing gun violence, protecting our children, our communities — urban, rural and suburban alike — and moms across the country are going to continue to work to enact similar live saving laws, like the fingerprint licensing of handgun purchasers in other states,” Gormley said.

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