ANNAPOLIS, Md. - Gov. Martin O'Malley on Friday underscored the need for new licensing requirements for handguns, while a leading Maryland lawmaker recommended the provision in a comprehensive gun-control measure be considered separately due to the potential for considerable opposition.
O'Malley was joined at a news conference by police, lawmakers, House Speaker Michael Busch and Prince George's County Executive Rushern Baker. The governor defended the licensing proposal and outlined his public safety priorities for the legislative session. Lt. Gov. Anthony Brown, who also attended, will be leading the administration's push to get the gun-control bill through the Legislature.
"If you have to get a license to drive a car on the streets or a motorcycle on the streets, I think most Marylanders _ Democrats, Republicans and Independents _ agree that you should have to be licensed in order to operate a firearm," said the Democratic governor.
The licensing provision would require residents to be fingerprinted by the Maryland State Police before purchasing a handgun. Fingerprints now are only required for gun owners who get wear and carry permits. The proposal also would require handgun purchasers to take a hands-on safety training course, rather than simply watching an online video.
Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller said Friday he believed lawmakers from rural parts of the state, as well as legislators from Anne Arundel and Baltimore counties, would not be receptive to the licensing provision.
"I think it would jeopardize other aspects of the gun-control bill if they were tied in together to one bill," Miller, D-Calvert, said. "I think it should be a separate proposal, but again, we haven't seen the bill."
O'Malley's proposal to address gun violence, which he first discussed publicly during a summit Monday at Johns Hopkins University, comes in the aftermath of last month's massacre at a Newtown, Conn., school that left six teachers and 20 students dead.
O'Malley's proposal also would make $25 million available for schools to invest in security like locks, cameras and buzzer entrance systems. O'Malley also wants to boost the number of Maryland State Police officers with two new classes including 65 to 80 people in each. The governor also wants to ban assault weapons and limit magazine capacity from 20 rounds to 10.
Republicans criticized the proposal.
"The bad guys will still have assault weapons," Delegate Michael Smigiel, R-Cecil, said. "They'll still have magazines that have over 30-round clips. Nothing that's been proposed is going to have any effect on the illegal possession of firearms. It's only going to affect those who legally own them."
The bill also includes provisions to address mental health issues. For example, the bill would prohibit firearms access to people who are in a guardianship, because they have been ruled unable to make decisions for themselves. Residents under civil commitment who have been identified as posing a risk of violence also would be prohibited firearms access.
"The reasons these proposals are there are based on input that we received from experts in mental health and violence," said Joshua Sharfstein, the secretary of the Maryland Department of Health and Mental Hygiene. "It's an expansion of the prohibited-persons list, but it's a targeted expansion based on where we think the risk is."
O'Malley outlined some other public safety goals as well. The governor will seek to renew a DNA sample collection law for people charged with violent crimes and burglary, a law that is set to expire at the end of the year. Maryland's highest court has ruled the collections are unconstitutional, but the Supreme Court has agreed to hear the case.
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