ANNAPOLIS, Md. - Hundreds have gathered to express opposition to Gov. Martin O'Malley's gun-control measure outside the Maryland Statehouse as the Senate began a public hearing on the bill that is expected to last for hours.
A large crowd of people filled Lawyer's Mall in Annapolis on Wednesday.
Lou Levy of Parkton was among them. He says he disagrees with changing gun laws instead of focusing on the people who commit crimes.Members of the public and lobbyists filled a Senate committee room and into an overflow room ahead of a hearing on the governor's gun control bill. Access to the Miller Senate Building was cut off to better handle the crowds.
As many as 1,000 people flooded the Capitol grounds to rally, listen or testify. In response to the intense public interest, lawmakers allotted four hours per side to give testimony on the measure and the long hearing is expected to stretch into the evening.
O'Malley, a Democrat, testified before the Senate Judicial Proceedings Committee in support of his bill.
"This is not about ideology. This is about public safety," O'Malley said. "Last year, 516 of our fellow citizens were lost to gun violence."
O'Malley wants to ban assault weapons and create stricter licensing requirements for handguns.
The measure also includes provisions to improve the state's mental health services as a way to prevent violence. It would also set aside money in the state's capital schools budget for school safety.
Baltimore County States Attorney Scott Shellenberger tried to allay fears in his testimony. He cited a case of a homeowner, who shot and killed an intruder, but was cleared of wrongdoing.
But gun owners, like Christina Smith of Edgewater, say criminals will always find a way to obtain guns.
"They're protected by the Fifth Amendment. Why aren't we protected by the Second? This is the Constitution. You can't just go around changing stuff."
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WTOP's Kate Ryan and The Associated Press contributed to this report.
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