The national gun control fight took center stage in Maryland on Wednesday afternoon, where a hearing on proposed gun control legislation got off to a raucous start.
Thousands of gun rights advocates, including a group of 50 Allegany County residents who chartered a bus for the two and a half hour ride, protested outside of the state capitol in Annapolis during a state senate hearing on the legislation proposed by Gov. Martin O'Malley (D).
"This is Not Nazi Germany" proclaimed one sign. "Gun Control: Want Mine? Better Bring Yours!" challenged another.
The protesters heard impromptu speeches by Del. Kelly M. Schultz (R-New Market), state Sen. Nancy Jacobs (R-Harford), and state Sen. E.J. Pipkin (R-Cecil).
Inside the crowd was just as energized.
More than 700 people from both sides of the gun control issue signed up to speak at the hearing which went well into the evening. Lines to get into the meeting meandered down the capitol hallways as hundreds waited in hopes of getting into the committee room.
O'Malley was the first to speak on the legislation, penned in wake of the Newtown, Conn. shootings at Sandy Hook Elementary School in December of last year, and played on the emotion that poured out from the tragedy.
"There is no tragedy worse than the violent taking of a child’s life," he said, adding, "Is there not something more that we could not and should not do?"
O'Malley defended some of the most controversial parts of the law, including a requirement to fingerprint all potential gun buyers, intended to dissuade straw purchases -- when someone buys a gun for someone who cannot legally obtain one.
Testimony by Baltimore County State's Attorney Scott Shellenberger supported the provision stating, "Getting your fingerprints [taken], I think, causes loved ones to think twice about doing something illegal."
Among those at the hearing who spoke against the new gun control legislation was Tom Morris, Jr., a former correspondent for the television show America's Most Wanted, who voiced his disdain for limits on magazine size, one of the components of O'Malley's proposed law that would cut a 20 round limit down to 10 rounds.
"We can limit the capacity of magazines, but that’s not going to stop a criminal from putting in as many bullets as he can get," said Morris.
Jake McGuigan of the National Shooting Sports Foundation, based in Newtown, agreed with Morris' sentiments, stating that, "The restrictions in this bill are arbitrary. Nothing in it will prevent another Newtown or Columbine."
McGuigan also criticized the proposed assault weapons ban, which would outlaw 45 types of weapons and their knockoffs, citing a similar law that was in effect in Connecticut when the Newtown tragedy took place. He also alluded to 2011 statistics that showed only two homicides out of 400 in Maryland that year were committed using rifles that would be banned under the proposed law.
Baltimore police commissioner Anthony W. Batts, one of many law enforcement officials who testified in defense of the bill, countered McGuigan testimony, emphasizing a call for safety by asking those in attendance, "Are we willing to do anything to keep young people safe in our communities?"
A poll released last month by the Annapolis-based OpinionWorks found that an overwhelming majority of Marylanders support an assault weapons ban and new proposed limits on magazine capacity. Sixty-two percent of those who responded to the poll support an assault weapons ban and 71 percent support reducing the magazine capacity to ten rounds.
Other advocates of the gun control measure emphasized the component of the bill that would force potential gun buyers to undergo an eight hour training sessions and an extensive background check.
Maryland Attorney General Douglas F. Gansler (D) defended the component, comparing the training requirement to getting a driver's license.
"We license folks to drive a car, and we ask folks to get trained before getting a license," said Gansley. "It’s not an unreasonable burden for those that have a gun to get some training before they get the gun."
The bill has sparked controversy in the state and even Democratic lawmakers are split on the proposed legislation.
Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller, Jr (D-Calvert) has criticized the license requirement provision and has advocated for the bill to be split into multiple parts so the state legislator can vote separately on that element.
Other Democrats are standing behind the governor's proposal. Sen. Jamie B. Raskin (D-Montgomery) told the Washington Post, "I think there’s a concern that the spirit of Newtown -- that resolve -- is already beginning to slip away." Raskin added, "The time to act is now."