Md. Senate's final gun debate underway

Maryland's Senate opened Thursday with an early session on gun-control that could yield a final vote for the chamber on a bill that would ban the sale of assault-style rifles, keep guns away from some people with mental illnesses and require a license to buy a handgun.

Baltimore Sen. Nathaniel McFadden said the need for stricter gun laws transcends the Newtown shooting massacre, which killed 26 people and sparked national calls for more gun control.

"We don't have our Newtowns or Columbines in our neighborhood," McFadden said, adding that Baltimore instead lives with gun violence every day. "You can get a gun quicker than you can get an apple or an orange in my community. It's outrage, and we need to do something about it."

Opponents to the plan crafted by Gov. Martin O'Malley suggested a possible filibuster to try to avoid a final Senate vote on the bill, which got preliminary approval in the chamber late Wednesday. By 10 a.m., senators on both sides had offered comments for more than 90 minutes.

Over the course of debate on the Senate floor Wednesday, lawmakers preserved the licensing provision at the heart of the plan to prevent illegal guns from getting into the hands of criminals, though Republicans and some rural Democrats objected to licensing as a restriction on Second Amendment rights.

Gun control advocates defeated more than two dozen amendments that attempted to weaken the governor's bill, although they accepted concessions that would make handgun licenses cheaper, last longer and less time-consuming to obtain.

They also extended the grace period for registering assault weapons when the purchase of them is banned. Lawmakers revised language on which mental health patients would be barred from buying firearms. Patients admitted to a hospital through an emergency petition from a doctor would be prohibited from buying guns. Any involuntarily committed patients would also be banned.

If the Senate passes the bill, it will go to the House of Delegates, which has scheduled hearings Friday on the measure.