ANNAPOLIS, Md. (AP) — The Maryland Senate on Wednesday gave preliminary approval to a sweeping gun control bill after rejecting efforts to scuttle a major piece of the measure backed by Gov. Martin O'Malley — a licensing provision for handguns that would require gun buyers to submit fingerprints to state police.
Also, senators decided to prohibit anyone who has been involuntarily committed due to mental illness for any duration from possessing a firearm. In addition, the Senate approved language that anyone who is admitted to a psychiatric facility following the emergency petition process would lose the right to buy a gun, unless determined to be safe by their treating psychiatrist when released.
Individuals could later apply to have the ban lifted by the state.
On the licensing provision, the Senate voted 20-27 to reject an amendment offered by Sen. Allan Kittleman, R-Howard, that would have taken the proposed rules out of the bill. Kittleman argued the provision was too restrictive on the constitutional right to bear arms.
"I think we shouldn't be licensing a constitutional right," Kittleman said.
But Sen. Brian Frosh, D-Montgomery, said the licensing component is the most important part of the bill. He mentioned several states with similar laws that have lower rates of gun violence, including Connecticut, New York, New Jersey and Massachusetts.
"It reduces crime when people have to get these licenses," Frosh said.
The Senate convened early Wednesday to begin a long day of debate on amendments, and they worked past 9 p.m. A final vote could come as early as Thursday.
Early in the day, the Senate delayed taking action on a part of the bill to prohibit people who have been involuntarily committed from possessing a rifle or shotgun; a ban on their owning other guns was already in the bill. Mental health issues related to firearms access have proved to be a sticking point in the chamber.
Sen. E.J. Pipkin, R-Cecil, said the bill went too far and broke new ground by taking basic firearms rights away.
"This is the creep," Pipkin said. "This is the one that takes you into a whole other realm of regulation as far as that's concerned."
However, Frosh cited mass shootings by people suffering from mental illness. Frosh, the chairman of the Senate Judicial Proceedings Committee, pointed to the 2011 shooting rampage in Arizona that wounded U.S. Rep. Gabrielle Giffords and last year's shooting in a Colorado movie theater that killed 12 people and wounded 58, as well as the December shooting in Newtown, Conn., where a gunman killed 20 children and six adults before committing suicide.
"We can stop some of these crimes if we can keep guns out of the hands of people who are mentally ill," Frosh said. "If we haven't drawn precisely the right lines, we've drawn pretty good lines. An involuntary commitment is somebody who is a danger to himself and others."
Sen. Paul Pinsky, D-Prince George's, said the bill goes beyond simply addressing high-profile rampage shootings with mass casualties, noting the gun violence that is claiming lives in less publicized crimes in Maryland.
"I want to reduce that violence, and I think we all want to and that means taking action," Pinsky said. "Is it the perfect action? It may not be, but if we get 90 percent of it right and we can at the end of the day or in two years or four years or five years reduce that stream of illegal guns on the street, it's going to help all of us."