Assault gun bill clears hurdle in House committee barely

March 27, 1994|By Frank Langfitt | Frank Langfitt,Sun Staff Writer

Without a vote to spare, gun control supporters in the Maryland legislature fought off the second serious attempt in nine days to kill a proposed ban on the sale of assault pistols.

The House Judiciary Committee approved the bill yesterday, sending it into the final leg of its legislative journey -- a vote on the floor of the House of Delegates, where gun control advocates are predicting victory. The House is expected to begin debate on the bill tomorrow.

"Wow!" said Vincent DeMarco, executive director of Marylanders Against Handgun Abuse, when he learned the bill had barely cleared the committee. "This was a major hurdle."

Opponents twice tried to add amendments designed to kill the bill, but failed by votes of 11-11. The committee then passed the measure to the full House, 12-10. Twelve votes are the minimum required for passage.

Despite yesterday's loss, gun rights forces did not concede defeat. Instead, they vowed to try one last time to kill the bill with amendments on the House floor.

"I don't think anyone can predict what will happen," said Robert A. McMurray, a spokesman for the Maryland State Rifle and Pistol Association. But anticipating that the bill could soon become law, Mr. McMurray said gun rights proponents are preparing a federal lawsuit to have the measure struck down on constitutional grounds.

The bill, a major portion of the governor's legislative agenda, has been approved in the state Senate. Last week, gun control supporters there narrowly fended off an effort to kill the bill with a tough-on-crime amendment that would have cost hundreds of millions of dollars.

The legislation would ban the sale or transfer in Maryland of 18 types of semiautomatic pistols beginning June 1. The handguns are sometimes called assault pistols because of their military look and their ability to hold 30 rounds of ammunition or more. Scores of other types of semiautomatic pistols would not be banned.

Yesterday's committee meeting provided drama as the bill's opponents tried to persuade supporters to amend it. Their strategy was to change the bill so that it would eventually have to return to the Senate for final approval. Many expected it would die there in a late-session filibuster.

"If we vote for this amendment or any amendment, the bill is likely dead," said Judiciary Vice Chairman Joel Chasnoff, a Montgomery Democrat, as the panel considered removing a requirement that some current assault pistol owners register them with state police.

Despite that warning, gun rights legislators won over Del. Gerry L. Brewster, a Baltimore County Democrat, and appeared to be gaining momentum.

But they could not persuade another member to join them to change the bill, and the vote failed. It soon became clear that other amendments also would end in a tie vote and opponents gave up.

In addition to banning assault pistols, the bill would ban the sale, but not possession, of high-capacity ammunition magazines that carry more than 20 bullets. It would add 21 types of military-style shotguns and rifles to a list of firearms requiring a seven-day waiting period and a background check before purchase.

People who currently own assault pistols, but do not have them registered with the state, would have to do so by Aug. 1.

A violation carries a maximum penalty of three years in prison and a $5,000 fine.

The provision is aimed at people who bought the guns through a private sale or in another state.

Assault pistols sold by commercial dealers in Maryland already must be registered.

In an election year when crime is a main issue, the assault pistol bill has attracted much attention in the General Assembly.

ROLL CALL

The Maryland House Judiciary Committee voted 12-10 yesterday to approve a bill that would ban the sale or transfer of 18 models of semiautomatic assault pistols. Here is how the members voted:

Voting Yea (12):

5+Joel Chasnoff, vice chairman, D-Montgomery

Curtis S. Anderson, D-Baltimore

Michael Arrington, D-Prince George's

Rosa Lee Blumenthal, D-Prince George's

Gerry L. Brewster, D-Baltimore County

Dana Lee Dembrow, D-Montgomery

Cornell N. Dypski, D-Baltimore

Gilbert J. Genn, D-Montgomery

Pauline H. Menes, D-Prince George's

Kenneth C. Montague Jr., D-Baltimore

Carol S. Petzold, D-Montgomery

Mary Louise Preis, D-Harford

Voting Nay (10):

Joseph Vallario Jr., chairman, D-P.George's.

J. Ernest Bell II, D-St. Mary's

Phillip D. Bissett, R-Anne Arundel

Louis L. DePazzo, D-Baltimore County

Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. R-Baltimore County

James M. Harkins, R-Harford

Kevin Kelly, D-Allegany

E. Farrell Maddox, D-Baltimore County

Kenneth H. Masters, D-Baltimore County

Richard C. Matthews, R-Carroll

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