A proposal to require fingerprints from people who buy handguns in Maryland prompted considerable discussion in the state Senate on Tuesday, as lawmakers began a debate expected to last most of the week on a comprehensive gun-control measure.
Senators spent more than two hours simply asking questions about details and the licensing provision for handguns stirred lively debate.
Supporters contend requiring handgun owners to submit fingerprints to the state police will help stop people from buying weapons for those who are prohibited from owning them.
“The reason licensing is important because it deters people from straw purchasing,” Sen. Brian Frosh, D-Montgomery, said, referring to the practice of people buying guns by proxy.
But opponents question whether that’s as big of a problem as supporters say. Senate Minority Leader E.J. Pipkin, R-Cecil, cited a paucity of convictions in state and federal courts for straw purchases as evidence the problem is not rampant.
“At the federal and the state level, licensing is a solution for a problem that really doesn’t exist, and it imposes a significant burden on law-abiding citizens who are actually using the guns,” Pipkin said.
Frosh, however, noted that 500 guns from one Maryland gun shop alone turned up in various crimes that were not committed by the people who bought them. He also said Connecticut, New York, New Jersey and Massachusetts have fingerprinting requirements for handgun ownership.
“In those states, they have a fingerprinting requirement in order to purchase, and we know they have lower rates of gun crimes than we do and that other states do that don’t have it,” Frosh said.
Pipkin disputed the findings, saying the lower crime rates could be due to other reasons. Pipkin also criticized the idea of requiring people to be fingerprinted to practice a constitutional right. Pipkin asked Frosh, “Do we fingerprint people to use their First Amendment rights? Do we fingerprint them to be able to assemble?”
But Frosh, the chairman of the Senate Judicial Proceedings Committee, said Maryland already requires teachers to be fingerprinted, as well as day care providers, social workers and horse racing jockeys.
“Half the people in the state of Maryland are required to be fingerprinted in some form or another,” Frosh said. “It is not a huge hurdle. It is not a huge burden. It is reasonable when you are talking about somebody who is going to possess a lethal weapon.”
The bill will be a hot topic in the Senate for most of the week. Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller said the Senate could finish work on the bill Friday morning.
The measure, which has been proposed by Democratic Gov. Martin O’Malley, would ban assault weapons.
It also would prohibit people from owning a firearm if they are involuntarily committed to a mental health facility for any duration. The bill includes $25 million for schools to invest in security like locks, cameras and buzzer entrance systems.