Tempers flared on the House floor Wednesday as lawmakers debated three Republican amendments to House Bill 4, which would mandate background checks on the transfer of shotguns and rifles.
The debate became so intense that at one point, House Speaker Adrienne A. Jones (D-Baltimore County) had to leave the rostrum during a rare parliamentary inquiry.
The amendments introduced by the GOP addressed a range of issues, from the practice of obtaining guns through straw purchases to the extension of penalties for using stolen firearms.
Democrats said those amendments only served to gut the bill or divert from the issue at hand and asserted that several of the amendments’ provisions are accounted for in separate bills that will be heard later in the session.
“Colleagues: This is a distraction,” said HB 4’s sponsor, Del. Vanessa E. Atterbeary (D-Howard). “It is a complete and utter distraction.”
House Minority Leader Nicholaus R. Kipke (R-Anne Arundel) argued that the bill’s current language will not do anything to protect Marylanders from gun violence.
“I would eagerly want to vote for a law that will make … all of us in our state safer,” said Kipke, “and respectfully to the well-intended advocate, the bill sponsor and those that support the initiative: The bill before us won’t make us safer; won’t make my daughter safer; won’t make my son safer.”
Leading House Democrats, including Jones, held a news conference Tuesday morning in favor of the bill.
Kipke cited a 10-year study conducted by Johns Hopkins University in collaboration with the University of California Davis’ Violence Prevention Research Program that found that background check laws in the state of California had no impact on reducing gun homicides and suicides.
“You would think if this bill before would do anything, they would be on your side — the data would back it up,” said Kipke. “But it doesn’t. It doesn’t.”
Atterbeary countered, saying that the author of the study testified before the Judiciary Committee in favor of HB 4 during a hearing earlier in the session. She said he stated that when properly executed, background check laws tend to work and that the legislation was improperly implemented in California, which is why it had no effect.
During the argument surrounding the third amendment to the bill, Del. Dereck E. Davis (D-Prince George’s) brought a rule to the floor’s attention that states a bill cannot be amended in a way that would strike or change its original purpose entirely.
Del. Jheanelle K. Wilkins (D-Montgomery), the House parliamentarian, suggested to the speaker that the amendment was out of order on the basis that it struck the entire bill. Jones agreed.
Kipke challenged Jones’ ruling, a rare maneuver, forcing Jones to temporarily relinquish her gavel so Speaker Pro Tem Sheree L. Sample-Hughes (D-Eastern Shore) could preside while the delegates considered the minority leader’s protest. In a party-line vote following a short debate, Jones’ ruling was sustained.
The debate was suspended and will continue Thursday morning — the same day that both chambers will consider veto overrides. The House session will start an hour early tomorrow.
Kipke said he would seek advice from the Attorney General’s office.
In a news conference held immediately after the floor session, Kipke touted the Republican caucus’ package of bills that seek to address crime, including one that would change the charge of gun theft to a felony charge — one of the amendments proposed on the floor.
When asked about their decision to introduce these amendments if they are already covered in legislation to be heard in forthcoming bill hearings, Kipke said it’s because Republicans are concerned that the measures won’t make it to the House floor.
“We’ve been trying to pass those bills for three years,” said Kipke. “Three years, and it’s gone on too long.”