Differences still need to be worked out with Senate version

ANNAPOLIS -- Gov. Martin O'Malley's sweeping gun control bill passed the House on Wednesday, but differences remain with a version the state Senate passed in February and must be ironed out before the final version can go to O'Malley's desk to be signed.

The bill, which passed the House 78-61, maintains all of the key provisions proposed by O'Malley in January -- it bans assault weapons; it limits ammunition magazines to 10 rounds; it requires training, licensing and fingerprinting for new handgun purchases; and it prohibits the mentally ill from owning guns.

However, the House made a number of changes to the bill handed to it by the Senate. The Senate can approve those changes or, more likely, the bill will go to a conference committee where members from both chambers will work out a compromise.

The House changed the bill to allow Marylanders to obtain assault rifles as long as they place an order before the bill's Oct. 1 effective date. Critics of that provision say it will render the ban useless.

"This ban will not have any effect for a generation," said Del. Luiz Simmons, D-Montgomery County, who said the bill's passage would cause Marylanders to stockpile guns that would be in use for years.

"Instead of grandfathering in assault weapons [as the bill does for current owners], we should have been grandfathering them out."

The House-passed bill also contains a controversial provision that would prevent people from buying or owning a gun if they pleaded guilty to or were found guilty of a crime but were given probation instead of a criminal sentence.

Such "probation before judgment" sometimes is expunged from a criminal record, so lawmakers voted to allow gun ownership for residents whose probation is expunged.

Democrats who control the House did, however, strike a provision they added to the bill allowing members of the military under the age of 21 to own a handgun. Federal law currently prohibits anyone under 21 from owning a handgun, and firearms dealers who sell to anyone under that age could lose their license.

The amendment was fiercely opposed by Republicans.

"I just find it incredible," said House Minority Leader Anthony O'Donnell, R-St. Mary's and Calvert counties. "We have a left-wing legislature on a jihad to take away the rights of active-duty military."