ANNAPOLIS -- A Senate committee voted overwhelmingly to approve a bill that would require gun owners to keep guns away from children, and now both sides on the issue are claiming victory.
Once known as the "kiddie lock" bill, the Schaefer administration measure was changed during yesterday's committee vote, dropping the original's references to locked containers or trigger-locking mechanisms.
As amended, the bill states that gun owners must secure weapons so children under 16 don't have unsupervised access to them. Violators could be fined up to $1,000.
The 9-2 vote in the Senate Judicial Proceedings Committee was a turnaround for a committee that last year defeated a similar measure 6-5. Only Sens. Larry E. Haines, R-Carroll, and Frederick C. Malkus, D-Dorchester, voted against the bill.
Gov. William Donald Schaefer's chief lobbyist, David S. Iannucci, said the Senate committee approved a stronger bill than the one the full House of Delegates approved last week.
"It's stronger than the House bill and cleaner," Mr. Iannucci. "It's a
stronger bill than we [the administration] introduced."
Bob McMurray, spokesman for the Maryland State Rifle and Pistol Association, disagreed.
"We don't see it that way," Mr. McMurray said. "Every section we objected to has been amended out. The senators have listened to what both sides had to say and they have given us the best level of fairness that can be determined."
For Mr. McMurray and his group, a National Rifle Association affiliate, the bill's biggest flaw had been requiring unsecured guns to have locking mechanisms.
Mr. McMurray said such a requirement would force gun owners to use trigger locks, which he said are not recommended for loaded guns. Those who supported the bill disagreed vehemently.
But the changes to the bill made the argument moot. Mr. Iannucci said the Senate version of the bill means an adult who left a gun with a trigger lock within a child's reach could be prosecuted under the law. The Senate bill is expected to pass the floor, but the measure then will have to go to a conference committee to work out the differences.
The Senate committee approved several other gun-related measures sponsored by Sen. Janice Piccinini, D-Baltimore County. All 11 members agreed to a ban on incendiary ammunition, sold under the trademark Dragon's Breath, that turns shotguns into flamethrowers.