ANNAPOLIS -- With the federal ban on assault weapons due to expire next year, two Maryland lawmakers want the General Assembly to take another crack at expanding a statewide ban on assault weapons to some rifles.
"These weapons will be back on the streets of Maryland next year unless we do something about this now," said Sen. Robert Garagiola, D-Montgomery, who said Friday that he will sponsor legislation to outlaw assault rifles and similar weapons. "There is a greater impetus to get it passed this year since the federal ban is set to expire."
Legislation expanding an existing ban on assault pistols was stymied last session, but Garagiola and Delegate Neil Quinter, D-Howard, plan to introduce a new bill when the Assembly reconvenes in January. They will kickoff their efforts at two news conferences today: one in Rockville with Montgomery County Executive Doug Duncan, Montgomery Police Chief Bill O'Toole and CeaseFire Maryland and the other in Baltimore with Mayor Martin O'Malley.
In 1994, the federal government passed a 10-year ban on assault weapons that will expire on Sept. 13, 2004.
So far, five states have passed their own bans and at least a dozen others are considering one, according to Leah Barrett, executive director of CeaseFire Maryland, a nonprofit organization dedicated to reducing violence with public education about handgun ownership and misuse hazards. Her group is working with the legislators to draft the new bills.
It's more critical to draw attention to the issue this year because many people don't realize that these types of weapons could be back on the streets in a year, Garagiola said.
Sen. J. Lowell Stoltzfus, R-Somerset, said he doesn't know what kind of chances the bill would have next session.
"Is it going to pass? I don't know," he said. "It is shown that where there is gun control most crime is higher. You are not controlling the criminals, you are controlling the law-abiding citizens. Criminals will get the guns anyway."
National Rifle Association spokesman Andrew Arulanandam declined to comment on the state proposal, but said the national ban has been ineffective.
"Any additional legislation hurts law-abiding citizens. Criminals, by definition, don't follow the laws," he said. One weapon not banned under the federal law is the Bushmaster rifle, one of many clones of the AR-15 assault weapon. Police say a Bushmaster rifle was used in last fall's sniper attacks that killed 10 people in Maryland and Virginia and wounded three others. Two suspects, John Allen Muhammad and Lee Boyd Malvo, are awaiting trial in those attacks.
"The snipers could not have inflicted the damage they did with a handgun," Barrett said. "Individuals not in the Army have no need to have these particular lethal weapons."
Garagiola and Quinter's proposed legislation would ban characteristics and parts that could be used to make an assault rifle, not just individual weapons, so that weapons similar to a listed gun also would be covered.
The bill's chance of passage in the Legislature may be better this year, Garagiola said, because of the looming deadline and because he believes the timing is better.
"Last year we had a lot of new committee chairs and a new governor, just basically a lot of newness, and so a lot of folks in the leadership felt it was better not to take something like this one right now," he said. "A bill like this has controversy and a lot of people wanted to stay away from that.