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Md. House still 'ruminating' on assault weapons ban

By Erin Cox

The Baltimore Sun

6:20 PM EDT, March 27, 2013

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Four weeks after Gov. Martin O'Malley's gun-control bill passed the Senate, a key House committee has yet to schedule a vote and continues to debate whether to scale it back.

Among the possible changes still on the table: whether to take the AR-15 and a few other assault-style rifles off the list of guns whose sale would be banned.

"We're still ruminating," said Del. Kathleen Dumais, vice chair of the House Judiciary Committee and a Democrat from Montgomery County.

About a half-dozen lawmakers have been meeting once or twice a week behind closed doors to determine what changes -- if any -- they want to adopt to on a bill that would give Maryland some of the nation's strictest gun laws. O'Malley's staff has been in several of those meetings, lawmakers said, and the governor has been making one-on-one appeals with legislators.

With less than two weeks left before the General Assembly adjourns, delegates from both parties said they settled on changes that would make clear gun manufacturers can continue their businesses, exempt current handgun owners from a four-hour training course and nix the requirement for gun owners to register assault-style weapons whose future sale would be banned. 

Without those changes, "it would be such a large burden on Maryland gun owners," said Del. Michael McDermott, a Worcester County Republican. McDermott has been in the behind-the-scenes negotiations and plans to vote against the bill.

Some lawmakers have also floated a plan that would rewrite how the assault weapons ban would work. Instead of a list of banned guns and a list of gun features that would disqualify other rifles from sale, this plan would put the decision of which weapons would be banned into the hands of a state agency. It's a framework similar to the Handgun Roster Board established in 1988 after the state passed a ban on the sale of cheap handguns known as Saturday Night Specials. 

Although the roster board plan could allow for weapons such as the AR-15 to continue to be legal, it has drawn opposition from the National Rifle Association. The NRA's legislative arm called the plan "an evasion of duties" on its website. 

Sen. President Thomas V. Mike Miller on Wednesday expressed mild concern that major changes in the House late in session could cause the bill to be caught up in the rush toward adjournment. 

Baltimore Sun reporter Michael Dresser contributed to this article.