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."
Related on HuffPost:
1981: The Attempted Assassination Of President Ronald Reagan
on March 30, 1981, President Reagan and three others were shot and wounded in an assassination attempt by John Hinckley, Jr. outside the Washington Hilton Hotel in Washington, D.C. Reagan's press secretary, Jim Brady, was shot in the head.
1993: The Brady Handgun Violence Act
The Brady Handgun Violence Act of 1993, signed into law by President Bill Clinton, mandated that federally licensed dealers complete comprehensive background checks on individuals before selling them a gun. The legislation was named for James Brady, who was shot during an attempted assassination of President Ronald Reagan in 1981.
1994: The Violent Crime Control and Law Enforcement Act
The Violent Crime Control and Law Enforcement Act, signed into law by President Bill Clinton in 1994, instituted a ban on 19 kinds of assault weapons, including Uzis and AK-47s. The crime bill also banned the possession of magazines holding more than ten rounds of ammunition. (An exemption was made for weapons and magazines manufactured prior to the ban.)
2004: Law Banning Magazines Holding More Than Ten Rounds Of Ammunition Expires
In 2004, ten years after it first became law, Congress allowed a provision banning possession of magazines holding more than ten rounds of ammunition to expire through a sunset provision. Brady Campaign President Paul Helmke told HuffPost that the expiration of this provision meant that Rep. Gabby Giffords's alleged shooter was able to fire off 20-plus shots without reloading (under the former law he would have had only ten).
2007: The U.S. Court of Appeals For The District Of Columbia Rules In Favor Of Dick Heller
In 2007 The U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia ruled to allow Dick Heller, a licensed District police officer, to keep a handgun in his home in Washington, D.C. Following that ruling, the defendants petitioned the U.S. Supreme Court to hear the case.
2008: The NICS Improvement Amendments Act
Following the deadly shooting at Virginia Tech University, Congress passed legislation to require states provide data on mentally unsound individuals to the National Instant Criminal Background Check System, with the aim of halting gun purchases by the mentally ill, and others prohibited from possessing firearms. The bill was signed into law by President George W. Bush in January of 2008.
2008: Supreme Court Strikes Down D.C. Handgun Ban As Unconstitutional
In June of 2008, the United States Supreme Court upheld the verdict of a lower court ruling the D.C. handgun ban unconstitutional in the landmark case <em>District of Columbia v. Heller</em>.
Gabrielle Giffords And Trayvon Martin Shootings
Gun control advocates had high hopes that reform efforts would have increased momentum in the wake of two tragic events that rocked the nation. In January of 2011, Jared Loughner opened fire at an event held by Rep. Gabrielle Giffords (D-Ariz.), killing six and injuring 13, including the congresswoman. Resulting attempts to push gun control legislation <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/04/09/trayvon-martin-shooting-gun-debate_n_1413115.html" target="_hplink">proved fruitless</a>, with neither proposal even succeeding in gaining a single GOP co-sponsor. More than a year after that shooting, Florida teenager Trayvon Martin was <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/news/trayvon-martin" target="_hplink">gunned down</a> by George Zimmerman in an event that some believed would bring increased scrutiny on the nation's Stand Your Ground laws. While there has been increasing discussion over the nature of those statutes, lawmakers were <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/04/09/trayvon-martin-shooting-gun-debate_n_1413115.html" target="_hplink">quick to concede</a> that they had little faith the event would effectively spur gun control legislation, thanks largely to the National Rifle Association's vast lobbying power. Read more <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/04/09/trayvon-martin-shooting-gun-debate_n_1413115.html" target="_hplink">here</a>:
Colorado Movie Theater Shooting
In July of 2012, a heavily armed gunman <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/07/20/aurora-shooting-movie-theater-batman_n_1688547.html" target="_hplink">opened fire on theatergoers</a> attending a midnight premiere of the final film of the latest Batman trilogy, killing 12 and wounding scores more. The suspect, James Eagan Holmes, allegedly carried out the act with a number of handguns, as well as an AR-15 assault rifle with a 100-round drum magazine. Some lawmakers used the incident, which took place in a state with some of the laxest gun control laws, to bring forth legislation designed to place increased regulations on access to such weapons, but many observers, citing previous experience, were <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/07/20/batman-shooting_n_1690547.html" target="_hplink">hesitant to say</a> that they would be able to overcome the power of the National Rifle Association and Washington gun lobby.
Sikh Temple Shooting
On August 5, 2012, white supremacist Wade Michael Page opened fire on a Sikhs gathered at a temple in Oak Creek, Wis., killing six and wounding four more before turning the gun on himself.