Several thousand Marylanders went to
At a hearing before a Senate committee, O'Malley urged state legislators to approve what he called a comprehensive approach to curbing gun violence. He called for a ban on the sale of "military-style" assault weapons and high-capacity magazines, and said the state should require licensing and training for handgun buyers.
The Democrat said his proposal would not infringe on legitimate gun ownership and would protect the rights of hunters.
"This is not about ideology. This is about public safety. This is about doing reasonable things to save lives," he said.
The governor's testimony before the Senate Judicial Proceedings Committee came after at least 1,500 gun-rights advocates rallied outside the State House in opposition to the legislation. They held signs that read "This is Not
Meanwhile, advocates on either side of the issue packed the hearing room and an overflow room downstairs. Hundreds more stood in a line that extended down a stairway to the floor below.
Legislative aides said they had never seen such an outpouring of people seeking to testify on a bill. By an overwhelming number, they were signing up in opposition to the governor's proposal.
O'Malley's proposal would add 45 assault-type rifles and their copycats to a state law that already bans the sale of assault pistols. The bill would limit magazines to 10 bullets, half the current cap. People who already own a newly banned assault-type rifle as of Oct. 1 could keep it but would have to register it with the
While supporters are hopeful about passing a ban on assault-type weapons, a more sweeping licensing requirement is proving more controversial and has not drawn support from conservative Democrats. Leading Senate Democrats have said the governor's bill might have to be broken into pieces if any provisions are to pass.
Under the plan, handgun licenses would cost $100 and be valid for five years, and a background check would still have to be conducted with each gun purchase. Applicants would have to complete an eight-hour safety training course, undergo a more extensive background check and be fingerprinted for state police records. Under current law, gun buyers must watch a 30-minute online video.
The licensing system, which would apply only to handguns, and not hunting rifles or shotguns, would cost $3.4 million to set up but would collect $7.2 million its first year, according to an analysis by the Department of Legislative Services.
Five states and the District of Columbia have such licensing programs, according to
Advocates for such licensing requirements say they deter "straw" purchases by people buying for others, keeping guns out of the hands of criminals. They say licensing is the most effective provision in O'Malley's gun-control package, which also would require that guns purchased outside Maryland be registered in the state within 30 days.
Baltimore County State's Attorney
"Getting your fingerprints [taken], I think, causes loved ones to think twice about doing something illegal," Shellenberger said.
The prosecutor was challenged by Sen.
Gregg Bernstein, the Baltimore state's attorney, said the law does not carry stiff enough penalties and is hard to enforce. He endorsed the governor's licensing proposal, saying it would discourage relatives or friends with no criminal records from buying weapons for someone else.
Some witnesses offered rambling critiques of Maryland's existing firearms laws or gun control in general, but others had specific objections to provisions of the governor's bill.
Sonia Mangum of
"If I'm under duress, I'm going to be missing and may not have time to reload," she said.
Stephen Schneider of the Maryland Licensed Firearms Dealers Association, based in
Senators also heard from Jeff Reh, a director of Beretta U.S.A. Corp. of Accokeek, a firearms manufacturer and distributor that is a major employer in Senate President
Reh testified that Beretta was committed to Maryland but issued a veiled threat to leave if the bans on assault-type weapons and high-capacity magazines are adopted.
"We are confronted with a state government that wants to ban our products at a time, by the way, when numerous other state governments are courting our investment."
Maryland Attorney General
"Most people believe today you shouldn't be able to own grenades or drive a tank down
Gansler also endorsed the other provisions of O'Malley's bill, including the proposed licensing requirement for owning handguns.
"We ask folks to get a license to drive a car and get some training before they do," he said. Later in the hearing, a representative of the
Baltimore County Executive
"This is not a cure-all here," he said. "If the 15-year-old at
Baltimore's police commissioner,
Some legislative leaders have suggested that the governor's bill should be broken into separate pieces. But Stacy Mayer, O'Malley's chief legislative officer, said the administration prefers to keep the package as one.
In the House of Delegates, Speaker
Another part of O'Malley's plan aims to keep guns away from people with mental illnesses by more often requiring reporting to the state when patients are treated. The information would be sent to the state and federal databases consulted during background checks and would disqualify about 2,000 people each year from gun ownership in Maryland, according to the Department of Mental Health and Hygiene.
It would also put into a federal database the names of about 50,000 people who are now prohibited from buying guns in Maryland but who currently could clear a background check in another state.
Baltimore Sun reporter Erin Cox contributed to this article.