Maryland Gov. Martin O'Malley (D) welcomes members of the Maryland… (Patrick Semansky/AP )
Maryland Gov. Martin O’Malley will seek to institute some of the nation’s strictest gun-licensing requirements, ban assault weapons and restrict visitor access to schools in one of the most expansive government responses sought to last month’s school shooting in Newtown, Conn.
Perhaps most controversially, O’Malley (D) will ask the General Assembly to force prospective gun owners to provide fingerprints to state police, complete a hands-on weapon-familiarization and gun-safety course, and undergo a background check to be licensed.
And the governor is seeking new measures to keep guns out of the hands of those with mental illness who show violent tendencies.
(Read: How the National Rifle Association became one of the most powerful lobbying organizations in America.)
The coming gun-control debate in Annapolis, where Democrats reign, will contrast starkly with the discussion in Washington and the contortions that will be needed to get any gun-control legislation through a divided Congress.
O’Malley’s plan, which administration officials described Sunday, positions him among a cadre of Democratic governors, including New York Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo, seeking aggressive gun-control legislation in state capitals. The officials spoke on the condition of anonymity to provide the details, which have not been previously disclosed.
Regionally, O’Malley’s efforts are likely to further widen a cultural divide on gun control between Maryland and Virginia, where Gov. Robert F. McDonnell (R) has been an outspoken critic of President Obama’s call for stricter gun control after Newtown.
Responding to O’Malley’s emerging plan Sunday, Maryland Republicans said the gun-control measures appeared ill-suited to prevent another Newtown and seemed more tailored to the governor’s political goals.
“This looks like crass opportunism from politicians who want gun control,” said House Minority Leader Anthony J. O’Donnell (R-Calvert), who would need to peel off support from several Democrats to derail O’Malley’s plans.
“The reality is Martin O’Malley is trying to get to the left of Cuomo in New York because he wants to run for president in 2016,” O’Donnell said.
O’Malley plans to announce the gun package this week, when he formally introduces the rest of his legislative package for the 90-day session, aides said. He will offer a preview of his gun measures, they said, on Monday, when he introduces New York Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg (I) at a summit in Baltimore on reducing gun violence.
‘Too much killing’
O’Malley, who first made his name in politics as a tough-on-crime Baltimore mayor, signaled his intent to develop a gun-
control package just days after the Newtown shootings, telling reporters, “I think we have too many guns, and I think we have too much killing.”
“You look at some of these guns, and it’s just hard to conclude that these guns should be in the hands of anyone who isn’t a soldier on a battlefield or a law enforcement officer sent into a tactical situation,” O’Malley said at the mid-December news conference, which took place shortly after he pulled several Cabinet officials together to start looking at a response.
Administration officials said O’Malley had considered extending the licensing requirement to the state’s hundreds of thousands of current gun owners. But he backed off of that controversial measure, which would have faced strong opposition from even some Democrats.
Many of the proposals to be put forward by O’Malley parallel initiatives that Congress will debate in coming weeks, and O’Malley has acknowledged that an assault-weapons ban, like the federal one that expired in 2004, remains a measure that would be “a lot more effective on the national level.” There are 46,719 assault weapons registered in Maryland, according to state police.
Like New York and other Democratic-controlled states considering the most aggressive reforms, Maryland is already quite restrictive. It requires that all private transfers of guns be handled through a licensed dealer, requires purchasers to watch a safety video and limits purchases of guns to one per 30-day period. Maryland’s laws last year received a grade of a B from the California-based Law Center to Prevent Gun Violence, and the Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence gives the state a score of 45 out of 100. Virginia scores 12.
Maryland is not among the six states that ban assault weapons, although it has outlawed some semiautomatic pistols.