In Annapolis, College Park shooting becomes part of the debate

The murder-suicide that left two University of Maryland students dead provided fresh fodder in Annapolis Wednesday for lawmakers debating whether to tighten Maryland's gun laws, with supporters saying the tragic incident gave them new resolve while opponents cautioned against rash responses.

Gun control proponents said they hoped the incident Tuesday — in which police say a graduate engineering student from Baltimore shot his two roommates, one fatally, before killing himself — would spur legislators to approve the sweeping measure put forward last month by Gov. Martin O'Malley.

"It damn well better," said Sen. James C. Rosapepe, a Democrat who represents College Park, home of the university's flagship campus.

Police have said that Dayvon Maurice Green, the 23-year-old graduate student, shot his roommates with a 9 mm handgun, a firearm that would not be affected by the governor's bill. But Rosapepe pointed out that the shooter had 20-bullet magazines that would be outlawed under the proposal, as well as a .22-caliber UZI B semiautomatic rifle that would no longer be allowed to be sold.

Del. Anthony J. O'Donnell, the House minority leader and a Republican representing St. Mary's and Calvert counties, echoed the views of gun-rights advocates when he cautioned against reacting to what he called a "terrible tragedy" in adopting legislation.

"Sometimes people feel they need to do something," he said. "But that something can be a bearer of false hope."

The governor's bill would ban the sale of assault rifles and limit the size of magazines to 10 bullets. It also would require handgun buyers to be licensed and restrict access to guns for some individuals with serious mental illness.

It's not clear that any other provisions in the legislation would have done anything to deter the shooting. The handgun police say Green used in the shooting would still be legal, though he would have been required to get a license and undergo training.

One shooting-related issue over which legislators still seemed to be wrestling was what more might be done to limit the ability of the mentally ill to buy guns. Police reports that the College Park shooting was done by someone who had been suffering from a mental illness was noted by lawmakers on both sides of the debate.

"I would hope it sends a signal to the governor's office that they need to focus more on mental health issues," said Del. Michael D. Smigiel Sr., a Cecil County Republican who is a gun rights advocate.

State law now bars gun sales to anyone who has been confined in a state mental hospital for more than 30 days. The governor's bill would expand that some, said Dr. Joshua Sharfstein, Maryland's health secretary, by barring sales to persons subject to "civil commitment" by the courts for treatment because they made threats to harm others.

Sharfstein estimated those provisions would prevent hundreds more from buying guns in Maryland. The governor's bill also would put into a federal database the names of about 50,000 people now prohibited from buying guns in Maryland but who can clear a background check in another state.

He indicated Wednesday the administration may well propose to broaden those restrictions even more, to cover all people subject to court-ordered civil commitments, even if they only are deemed to pose a threat to themselves. He estimated that there are 1,200 commitments a year in all.

"We've heard some very compelling arguments why it should be all civil commitments," he said, "and we're very seriously looking at that."

A task force created by the General Assembly last year to study how to limit access of the mentally ill to firearms had recommended requiring mental health professionals to report threats of violence made by their patients. But that is opposed by clinicians worried it would scare away people who need treatment.

"We don't want anybody who ever suffered from a moment of depression to worry 'Will my rights be abridged,'" said Sen. Brian E. Frosh, chairman of the Senate Judicial Proceedings Committee, which spent nine hours last week listening to testimony for and against the governor's bill and still turned away hundreds wanting to voice their opposition.

Speaker Michael E. Busch predicted that the House would pass comprehensive gun safety legislation, but Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller Jr. has voiced reservations about handgun licensing.

At the federal level, Baltimore Rep. Elijah E. Cummings is among a small, bipartisan group seeking funding for a training and research center for college public safety agencies. The legislation, which has passed previously in the House of Representatives but not in the Senate, would direct a to-be-determined amount of U.S. Department of Justice grants toward the effort.

"We should enact the laws needed to ensure that when we send our children to school, they will not come home in a coffin," Cummings, a Baltimore Democrat, said in a statement.

Cummings, also a leading sponsor of a bipartisan gun control measure in the House, has been personally affected by gun violence. His 20-year-old nephew, a student at Old Dominion University, was shot and killed in 2011 in an apartment just off campus.

Baltimore Sun reporters John Fritze and Michael Dresser contributed to this article.

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