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Transcript: Gun Control Debate Heats Up in Back Rooms

If there is one point of clear agreement in Maryland’s gun control debate, it may be that people with criminal records shouldn’t have legal access to firearms.

But the legislation as proposed by the governor and approved by the state Senate has what some legislators call a dangerous exception:  criminal defendants who have their convictions or guilty pleas expunged when judges grant them probation before judgment, or PBJ.

According to Delegate Luiz Simmons, a lawyer in Montgomery County, there are thousands of Marylanders granted such dispositions each year on charges that include first degree assault, robbery with a dangerous weapon and carjacking.

This is in my view the black hole in the governor’s bill.

 O’Malley’s bill would ban military style assault weapons, limit magazine clips, and require licensing for hand-gun buyers that would include fingerprinting by the state police. Simmons noted that the ban would not apply to the 70,000 or so assault rifles already in Maryland.

That, we’re going to grandfather in at the same time we’re turning a blind eye and a deaf ear to the fact that all of these individuals, thousands every year in Maryland will have access to a weapon if they choose.

During these final days of intense backroom debate over the gun legislation, Simmons’ attempt to include PBJs in background checks is but one of many points in dispute.

House Judiciary Committee Chairman Joe Vallario has been meeting daily behind closed doors with committee members, O’Malley’s staff and a wide assortment of lobbyists that yesterday included a burly band of gun enthusiasts. Vallario said a vote to send the measure to the House floor could come at any time. 

We’re meeting and we’re working on the bill as we come. It’s getting closer and closer.

One of the major points of contention has been how to define the assault weapons that would be banned.  House members say the governor’s bill would outlaw some rifles used by sportsmen, which some think is an overreach. 

Keiffer Mitchell, a Baltimore Democrat who also serves on the Judiciary committee, said it’s been a real learning experience.

There are a lot of nuances in the legislation, but we’ve got experts in who are talking to us to let us know what different types of assault weapons bans there are. So, you know that’s been very helpful.

O’Malley sent out an email blast last week complaining that House members were trying to weaken his bill by allowing the continued sale in Maryland of the Bushmaster M-4 carbine and AR-15 semiautomatic rifles.

But as Simmons noted, even under O’Malley’s original bill, a full generation of Marylanders would likely pass before assault weapons effectively disappear from the state. That doesn’t help make his case on the use of PBJ’s in background checks, though.  At least not with Michael Smigiel, an Eastern Shore Republican and leading gun rights advocate.

If you don’t want PBJ’s, don’t have them because you cannot say a PBJ will not act as a conviction in any case except where you are going to purchase a firearm or exercise your right to own one. That’s absolutely, as far as I concerned, anathema to the idea of what a PBJ is supposed to be and unconstitutional.

And on it goes, at least for another week or so.

I’m Karen Hosler, reporting in Annapolis, for 88.1 WYPR.