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Eye on Annapolis

The Daily Record's Maryland state government blog

Advocates swap blame on failure of Md. gun control bill

Andrea Chamblee, widow of John McNamara, a journalist who was killed in the June 28 2018, shooting at the Capital Gazette newspaper in Annapolis, speaks at a rally urging support of stricter gun laws in Maryland, including background checks for private sales of rifles and shotguns. (Bryan P. Sears)

Andrea Chamblee, widow of John McNamara, a journalist who was killed in the June 28, 2018, shooting at the Capital Gazette newspaper in Annapolis, speaks at a January rally urging support of stricter gun laws in Maryland, including background checks for private sales of rifles and shotguns. (Bryan P. Sears)

The chairman of a Senate committee is the target of post-General Assembly session criticism by gun control advocates angry with him after a priority bill died on the last day of legislative business.

Sen. Robert “Bobby” Zirkin, D-Baltimore County and chairman of the Senate Judicial Proceedings Committee, is getting the blame for the failure of a bill that would have required background checks on private sales of rifles and shotguns. His chief accuser is the widow of John McNamara, a journalist slain in the attack on the The Capital Gazette newspaper in Annapolis.

The bill was part of a package of measures introduced in the wake of the June 28 shooting that left five dead including McNamara, 56; Rob Hiaasen, 59; Wendi Winters, 65; Gerald Fischman, 61; and Rebecca Smith, 34. The legislation ultimately failed in the waning hours of the 90th day after it stalled in the House of Delegates and not in Zirkin’s committee.

Chamblee, however, has taken to Facebook in recent days following the session and laid the blame on Zirkin and called on others to pressure the Democrat on social media.

In reality, both the House and Senate may bear responsibility for the failure of legislation that leaders on both sides say should have passed. In the end, a confluence of events, including a committee re-vote in order to strike the vote of Sen. Will Smith, D-Montgomery; the difference in House and Senate schedules on the final day; and a compressed legislative schedule due to a memorial service for House Speaker Michael Busch may have all contributed.

Chamblee said Zirkin and his committee “took twice as long to get this bill out of the (Senate) committee. So those delays were instrumental in making sure the bill did not get to the floor before the last day.”

Chamblee took to Facebook to call for supporters of the measure both to blame Zirkin and call on supporters to pressure him to bring back the House bill in 2020 and pass it without delay.

“I’m extremely disappointed with the Senate’s decision to run the clock out on the long gun loophole bill on sine die,” said Chamblee. “Throughout the session, there were clear stalling tactics used to slow the progress of this bill. It’s disgraceful that nine months after the Capital Gazette shooting, Senator Zirkin and other lawmakers dragged their feet and refused to support the strongest legislation on long guns.”

The bill, had it already been law, would not have prevented Jarrod Ramos, who faces five counts of murder, from purchasing the weapon he allegedly used in the crime. Law enforcement sources say he bought the weapon legally.

In the legislature, both Zirkin and Del. Luke Clippinger, D-Baltimore and chairman of the House Judiciary Committee, agree that the bill should have passed. They also said that much of the work of the conference committee to iron out differences in the two chambers’ versions of the bill had been laid earlier. They also acknowledged that leaders of both committees, including Del. Vanessa Atterbeary, D-Howard and vice chair of the House committee, communicated — some times in harsh terms — with each other.

“There is no rational reason this bill is not law. This bill was worked out in plenty of time,” said Zirkin, who defended the time his committee took with the bill, saying the House version needed significant work.

“Just look at the red flag bill,” said Zirkin, a reference to a measure that allows police under certain circumstances to seek to take a dangerous individual’s guns. “The House did a lousy job, and the Senate had to fix it. Words matter. It’s the difference between legislating by title of a bill and legislating by substance of a bill.”

Key among the concerns for Zirkin was what he said was a conflict between Atterbeary’s bill and another passed earlier governing loans of regulated firearms.

Clippinger disagreed.

“Those two bills have nothing to do with each other,” said Clippinger. “I’m sure Senator Zirkin, with his 18 years of experience on gun issues, knows this.”

A Senate version of the bill sat in committee for much of the session as the House took the lead, moving Atterbeary’s bill. Atterbeary did not return calls and messages for comment.

Atterbeary’s bill needed slightly more than two weeks to move through Zirkin’s committee. Adding to the delay was a requirement for Zirkin’s committee to re-vote the bill after the committee included Smith’s proxy.

A final vote on an amended version happened in the Senate just after noon Monday. But the House was already out of session and could not retake possession of the bill until it returned at 5:30 p.m.

And while Atterbeary’s bill was garnering the attention, the House could have amended the Senate cross-file to the language agreed on and moved it to the Senate for its concurrence. That never happened.

In the end, the House did not take up a vote to reject the Senate amendments and to ask for a conference committee until 10:21 p.m. By that time, it would have been almost too late to complete the work on the bill, including the requirements that bills and conference committee reports be physically printed, before 11:20 p.m., the time both chambers agreed to stop work in order to meet in a rare joint session.

The Senate could not officially appoint a conference committee until the bill was read across the desk and in its possession. If everything had gone right, the bill needed an additional 90 minutes.

Clippinger said the failure to pass the bill was “disappointing.”

“This is a bill we spent a great deal of time on in the House,” said Clippinger. “We will take up the bill when we come back, and we will find a way to move forward on this issue.”

 

 


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One comment

  1. The key paragraph, “The bill, had it already been law, would not have prevented Jarrod Ramos, who faces five counts of murder, from purchasing the weapon he allegedly used in the crime. Law enforcement sources say he bought the weapon legally.”