ANNAPOLIS -- A bill that requires Marylanders to store loaded guns out of the reach of children cleared the House of Delegates today.
The House voted 85-47 to approve the Schaefer administration bill, which requires owners to store loaded guns in such a way that unsupervised children under age 16 can't gain access to them.
The bill now goes to the Senate Judicial Proceedings Committee, where it faces an uncertain future. The committee killed similar legislation last year, but proponents are more hopeful it will be enacted this year.
"I believe the bill will be enacted this year," said David S. Iannucci, the governor's chief lobbyist. "I believe Judicial Proceedings is going to pass it and Maryland will join Florida, Iowa and several other states" with similar laws.
In Maryland, violators would face a maximum $1,000 fine, but no jail time.
The National Rifle Association and the Maryland State Rifle and Pistol Association oppose the measure. They say the bill would force all gun owners, even those without children, to lock up their loaded weapons.
Bob McMurray, spokesman for the Rifle and Pistol Association, contends that the bill would make it more difficult for law-abiding people to reach their loaded guns when criminals break into their homes.
Today's action follows House approval yesterday of a bill to ban the sale of certain assault weapons in Maryland. That bill has been sent to the same Senate Judicial Proceedings Committee, which also kill assault-weapons legislation last year. It appeared unlikely to succeed in the Senate.
Its chances with committee chairman Walter M. Baker, a conservative Democrat from Cecil County, took a turn for the worse last month, when Mr. Baker and his wife were mugged in Annapolis. He resolved afterward not to restrict the ability of honest citizens to buy guns.
That bill would outlaw future sales of about three dozen categories of military-style assault weapons, but would allow current owners to keep theirs.
Proponents say banning weapons designed for mass killings would reduce random homicides and drug-related murders.
Before the House voted 79-50 for the bill yesterday, Del. Elijah E. Cummings said the legislation would "allow some young men to grow up and become fathers and productive members of society."
Opponents say it will hurt law-abiding sportsmen and gun owners, while criminals, they maintain, would continue to obtain assault weapons illegally.