BISHOPVILLE, Md. ─ The missing argument after Sandy Hook for many who are opposed to the legality of military assault weapons has been the lack of emphasis on mental health issues. Delegate Curtis “Curt” Anderson is pressing this point in the state of Maryland. House Democrats also are pushing for changes to Gov. Martin O’Malley’s gun control bill.
Anderson, a Democrat from Baltimore, has complained that the bill does nothing to address the drug business, which he sees as the cause of gun violence in Baltimore. Chairing the city’s House delegation, Anderson said he wants increased funding for drug treatment and education programs. He expressed other delegates have similar reservations about the bill and will be speaking with them in the days to come as the House Judiciary Committee jointly examines the bill with the House Health and Government Operations Committee.
“The governor’s bill addresses problems that I guess would be relevant to people at Sandy Hook or in Colorado, but if we’re going to do something, why aren’t we doing something about the problems that we face?” Anderson said. “Our bill will definitely be different from the Senate‘s.”
Anderson said other legislation is likely to address additional problems with the bill. House Democrats are pushing for changes to O’Malley’s gun control bill. Republicans are warning that even if the legislation passes, voters and the courts might get the final say.
Second Amendment activists gathered Tuesday in Annapolis by the hundreds to rally against the governor’s proposal and to testify on several gun bills. A proposal passed the Senate last week that would ban assault weapons, and require residents to obtain a permit and provide their fingerprints before purchasing a handgun. The proposal now is being considered by two House committees.
Lawmakers opposing the legislation say they still hope for major changes to the bill and are prepared to collect petitions for a referendum or to sue the state if they don’t get their way. They claim the Second Amendment prohibits such a ban or even background checks.
Tuesday marked the third time during this year’s General Assembly session that a large number of gun-rights supporters have gathered in Annapolis to call attention to what they consider to be an overreaching proposal by O’Malley, a Democrat. O’Malley proposed his legislation in response to mass shootings last year that included the tragedies at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn., and at a movie theater in Aurora, Colo.
The Senate approved a version of the governor’s bill last week that lowered some of the licensing fees associated with a new license-to-buy permit and tightened restrictions on purchases by the mentally ill. Some House members, however, say they are not satisfied with the bill.
Republicans argue that the assault weapons ban and license requirements will hamstring law-abiding residents and go ignored by criminals, and that forcing gun buyers to give their fingerprints is overly intrusive.
Republican delegates Michael Smigiel, District 36 (Caroline, Cecil, Kent and Queen Anne’s Counties), and Neil C. Parrott, District 2B (Washington County) both said they expect opponents will be able to collect the necessary 55,736 voter signatures to force a November 2014 vote on the bill. If passed, the law could not take effect until after the vote. Parrott helped lead efforts to force several bills to referendum last year.
Smigiel also said he would expect Second Amendment groups to challenge the law in court, as they have done to the state’s current concealed-carry handgun permit law. That law, which requires applicants to provide a “good and substantial reason” for needing a permit, was struck down last year as unconstitutional by a U.S. District Court judge. The state’s appeal is now being considered by the U.S. 4th Circuit Court of Appeals.