ANNAPOLIS —Gov. Martin O’Malley said Tuesday he expects his administration to introduce legislation aimed at preventing catastrophic mass shootings such as the one last week at a Connecticut elementary school.
O’Malley said he believes “we’ve all been changed” by Friday’s shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn., and that the massacre might serve as a catalyst for lawmakers to tighten the state’s gun laws.
“What I sense is there is a greater willingness among those who in the past felt that gun control measures were not as effective as some other things that we could be doing. I think there’s been a change of heart and a greater open-mindedness in the wake of the murder of the innocent in Connecticut for people to take a look at, especially assault weapons,” O’Malley, a Democrat, said during a year-end roundtable discussion with reporters.
“You look at some of these guns and it’s just hard to conclude that these guns should be in the hands of anyone who isn’t a soldier on a battlefield or a law enforcement officer sent in to a tactical situation,” he said.
He said he met earlier in the day with his Cabinet members to discuss ways to “protect our children better against the unthinkable tragedy of a mass shooting.” While he said he hadn’t settled yet on specific legislation, he was focused on laws concerning the availability of assault rifles and the “huge magazine clips that feed those weapons,” firearms access for the mentally ill and school safety.
“I think you can count on there being several bills, and the likelihood is that there will be a bill from this administration — the details of which we are still working on,” he said. “But I think you’ll see several bills. You’ll probably see several bills on mental health. You’ll probably see several bills on school safety.”
The Connecticut gunman, 20-year-old Adam Lanza, killed his mother at home before driving to the school and fatally shooting 20 children and six adults. Investigators said he turned the gun on himself as first responders closed in. Authorities haven’t revealed a motive, but they said Lanza is believed to have used a Bushmaster AR-15-style rifle, a civilian version of the military’s M-16.
Meanwhile, state Sen. Brian Frosh said he and other lawmakers plan to announce Wednesday a package of gun-control legislation, including a bill to restrict availability of assault weapons. He said he supports stricter enforcement on illicit gun sellers and a limit on the number of rounds in gun magazines. He said legislators who in the past resisted gun control efforts have told him that they’d be willing to revisit the issue now, in light of the Connecticut shooting.
“It’s a public health issue. I think people are finally starting to get it. I don’t know how many of these mass killings it takes,” said Frosh, a Montgomery County Democrat. “I think people understand that having these kinds of weapons all over the place, all the time, in the hands of dangerous people is a health risk and is a threat to every single member of society — including small schoolchildren.”
O’Malley said he’d sign a bill that banned assault weapons if it reached his desk, though he agreed that such an effort would be more effective at a national level. He said he wouldn’t entertain a discussion over whether school officials should be permitted to carry firearms on campus, an idea floated by Virginia Gov. Bob McDonnell in an interview with WTOP on Tuesday.
“I think we have too many guns, and I think we have too much killing,” he said. “It’s hard to imagine a level of weaponry that a security guard, if there even is one at an elementary school, would be carrying on their belt that could have resisted the sort of attack that the individual perpetrated in Newtown.”
O’Malley used Tuesday’s discussion to review what he said were some of the state’s accomplishments or achievements, including the creation of more than 35,500 private-sector jobs in the last 12 months, a nearly 25 percent reduction in violent crime since 2006 and the highest-ever math and reading scores by the state’s elementary school students on the Maryland School Assessment tests.
But he said transportation remains a persistent concern in the state and that Maryland won’t ease traffic congestion, or attract a desired number of public transit passengers, until officials make the necessary investments.