ANNAPOLIS -- The Schaefer administration's proposed ban on assault-style semiautomatic weapons appears to be headed for defeat in the state Senate unless the governor can turn around some key committee votes.
During a hearing yesterday before the Senate Judicial Proceedings Committee, a majority of committee members indicated their opposition
to Gov. William Donald Schaefer's latest gun-control bill.
"I think it's going to be defeated," predicted Sen. Habern W. Freeman Jr., D-Harford, one of the bill's opponents on the 11-member committee. "I already see six or seven who don't particularly like the legislation."
David S. Iannucci, Governor Schaefer's chief legislative officer, admitted the vote appeared to be close but was not ready to accept defeat. He said Governor Schaefer had already made a personal appeal to one senator, whom he declined to name. "The governor's going to get involved," said Mr. Iannucci. "We're going to have to look for all the votes we can."
Even before Governor Schaefer introduced the assault weapon bill in January, gun-control advocates pointed to the Senate committee as the crucial hurdle. Three years ago, the same committee was a major obstacle for the law that banned cheaply made and easily concealed handguns known as Saturday Night Specials.
Three senators -- Janice Piccinini, D-Baltimore County, Philip C. Jimeno, D-Anne Arundel, and the committee's chairman, Walter M. Baker, D-Cecil -- are viewed as the potential swing votes. The administration needs two of three for themeasure to pass. After yesterday's five-hour marathon hearing on six gun-control bills, including the proposed ban on military-style guns, Senator Piccinini said she opposed the legislation and intended to vote against it.
"I've heard from my constituents, and they make sense," Ms. Piccinini said. "If you're going to deny property rights to people, the state has to make a convincing case, and they haven't." Senator Jimeno said he also intended to vote against the bill, while Senator Baker said he remained undecided. A committee vote on the bill could come up as soon as this morning, Mr. Baker added.
An early vote would spell defeat for gun-control advocates, who are hoping the bill will gain momentum when the House of Delegates gives it final approval today.
"Without Senator Piccinini on board, there's no need to go through the effort," said Sen. John A. Pica Jr., one of the bill's supporters.
"It appears there's less support in committee this year than in past years," he said.
The House version of the bill would ban the sale or transfer of 38 specific guns after July 1 and require persons who currently possess an assault gun to obtain a permit.
The Schaefer administration has also proposed a law that would require adults to keep firearms under lock and key if a child under age 18 might have access to it. That bill is also expected to win final approval in the House today.
Yesterday's Senate hearing brought more than 300 irate gun owners to the State House, most of whom listened to a live broadcast of the hearing over loudspeakers outside the State House, cheering or booing testimony.
"Overall, I think we have reason for optimism," said Richard Manning, a lobbyist with the National Rifle Association, which has organized much of the effort to defeat the bills.
"While I wouldn't bet the family fortune on the vote in the House, there may even be some surprises there."