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Legislature Approves Strict Gun Laws

Gale Horton Gay | 4/10/2013, 9 p.m.

The Maryland General Assembly has strengthened the state's gun laws, making them some of the toughest in the country.

Last week, the legislature approved what is being called a "comprehensive public safety package" that bans the sale of military-style assault weapons and limits high-capacity magazines to 10 rounds. It also requires fingerprints for future handgun purchases and sets restrictions on possession of firearms and ammunition by persons prohibited due to prior criminal offenses and mental health disqualifications.

Gov. Martin O'Malley, whose administration sponsored the legislation following the elementary school massacre in Connecticut last year, praised it as "striking a balance between protecting the safety of law enforcement and our children, and respecting the traditions of hunters and law-abiding citizens to purchase handguns for self-protection."

Lt. Gov. Anthony Brown, who led town hall meetings throughout the state on public safety issues and testified alongside the governor on the proposal, called the legislation "an essential tool."

"As leaders, we have a responsibility to keep Maryland safe; to prevent senseless violence from threatening our collective potential – violence that takes our children from us too soon and destroys our neighborhoods," said Brown.

O'Malley is expected to sign the bill into law within days.

Just days after Maryland lawmakers agreed to the tougher gun control laws, President Barack Obama traveled to Hartford, Conn., not far from the site of the Sandy Hook Elementary School shootings in December 2012 that took the lives of 20 children and six adults, to rally support for gun control measures.

The president addressed an audience at the University of Hartford, about 50 miles from Newtown on Monday, April 8 and expressed his feelings about gun control.

"This is not about me. This is not about politics. This is about doing the right thing."

The U.S. Senate is set to debate gun control.

The Firearms Safety Act of 2013 was passed in the Maryland Senate 28-19 on April 4. It was approved and sent along by the House of Delegates with numerous modifications the day before. The act also establishes information sharing among federal and state partners for background checks, improvement in mental health services in Maryland and the establishment of a Department of Health and Mental Hygiene-led task force to improve continuity of care for individuals in the community mental health system.

"Governor O'Malley has a history of driving down violent crime by focusing on strategies that work," said Prince George's County State's Attorney Angela Alsobrooks. "I commend the governor and the General Assembly for focusing on commonsense initiatives that will make our families, our neighborhoods and our communities safer."

Not everyone favors Maryland gun control measures.

Some members of the General Assembly opposed the bill calling it an infringement on Second Amendment rights and saying it targets and hurts law-abiding citizens. Other lawmakers said it was pulled together too quickly.

On the National Rifle Association's Institute for Legislative Action website, O'Malley's efforts to gain support for new gun control laws were called "deceptive tactics and political bullying."

However, local law enforcement leaders give it two thumbs up.

"From a law enforcement perspective, we know that commonsense reforms like requiring licenses to purchase handguns work," said Jim Johnson, chief of Baltimore County's Police Department and chair of the National Law Enforcement Partnership to Prevent Gun Violence.