Cumberland Times-News

April 2, 2013

Md. lawmakers work on gun control in last week

Brian Witte
Associated Press

— ANNAPOLIS — While Maryland lawmakers will have plenty to do in the last week of the state’s legislative session, most of the high-profile measures backed by Gov. Martin O’Malley already have been approved by the General Assembly.

An increase in the state’s gasoline tax was passed last week — the first hike to gas taxes in the state in 20 years.

O’Malley’s push to create a framework to develop offshore wind, which had failed two years in a row, also has passed.

A repeal of capital punishment, a priority for the Democratic governor for years, awaits his signature. And the state budget doesn’t have the sort of controversial differences between the House and Senate that caused a budget deal to collapse at the end of last year’s session.

A major funding plan for Baltimore schools has only minor details to be reconciled to enable the city to issue about $1 billion in bonds to build 15 new schools and renovate up to 40 others.

That leaves O’Malley’s gun-control measure as the main unresolved item of the session.

The House of Delegates debated changes to the sweeping bill Tuesday and  rejected the proposed change to the bill that would have taken away parole or probation for people convicted of committing a crime with a gun.  

The House voted the amendment down on a 53-83 vote.

Supporters of the change say there should be some provision addressed at criminals who commit crimes because the bill focused too much on those who follow the law.

“Let’s send a message: Get those people off our streets, keep them off our streets, and stop trying to put the burden on the law-abiding citizens,” said Delegate Michael Smigiel, R-Cecil.

The House has rejected more than a dozen changes sought by Republican lawmakers. One of them would have stripped out a major part of the bill that would require people to submit their fingerprints to get a license to buy a handgun.

Supporters say the fingerprinting provision will make people reluctant to buy a gun legally to give to someone who is not allowed to own one. Opponents said it was wrong to fingerprint people for exercising their Second Amendment rights. The proposed change failed on a 51-79 vote.

The House and Senate still will have to work out some differences before midnight Monday; however, they are largely in agreement so far on the main components of the legislation.

Legislation to change the impact of a Court of Appeals ruling that designated pit bulls as an “inherently dangerous” breed also will take some work.

The bill has been a tricky issue for the General Assembly, which failed to successfully reconcile different approaches in an August special session. An apparent agreement announced early in this session ran into turbulence after changes during the legislative process.

Now, the two sides will have to settle a main sticking point over how much of a burden of proof a dog owner would need to meet in court over a dog bite.

The Senate has settled on a higher burden than the House.

The breed-specific ruling by the state’s highest court has been problematic because in an attack involving a pit bull, plaintiffs in civil lawsuits don’t have to prove the animal’s prior violent behavior for the owner to be held liable for damages.

The ruling also means landlords can be held liable in dog-bite cases on their property.