High court leaves intact ban on machine guns Schaefer to offer 2 gun control bills

January 15, 1991|By Peter Jensen | Peter Jensen,Annapolis Bureau of The Sun

ANNAPOLIS -- Three years after adopting one of the country's toughest bans on handguns, the Maryland General Assembly may be facing another hard-fought battle over gun control legislation.

Gov. William Donald Schaefer is expected to submit two gun control bills Friday that, if approved by the legislature, could once again put the state in the national forefront of that issue.

The first, and perhaps most controversial of the bills, would ban ownership of assault weapons beginning Jan. 1, 1992, and require people who already own the military-type rifles to get a special permit from the state police.

The other would require adults to keep all guns under lock and key if it is reasonably likely that a minor child would have access to them. Failure to do so would carry a maximum penalty of one year in prison and a $5,000 fine.

Only five other states have adopted versions of either gun control law. No state has approved both laws, according to gun control advocates.

"This is the right thing to do," said David S. Iannucci, Governor Schaefer's chief legislative aide. "We have a terrible problem with criminals who use [assault weapons]. There's almost a daily carnage of innocent people."

A draft version of the assault weapons bill lists 39 guns that would be banned outright. The legislation would empower the state police superintendent to add guns to that roster using a list of criteria.

The long list of proposed criteria includes determining such things as whether the gun has collapsible or folding stock -- a pistol grip that allows the gun to be fired from below the shoulder -- or whether the gun is designed to take a bayonet, flash-suppressor or silencer.

The draft legislation also requires people who purchased an assault-style weapon in the past to acquire a certificate from the state police similar to a handgun permit. Gun owners would have to prove their ownership and demonstrate that they have no criminal record or history of mental instability or drug abuse.

Failure to comply with the proposed law carries a maximum penalty of three years' imprisonment and a $10,000 fine. Experts estimate that 20,000 to 30,000 assault-type weapons are already owned by state residents, Mr. Iannucci said.

California became the first state to ban assault weapons two years ago after five children died in a Stockton, Calif., playground shooting, and it was joined by New Jersey last year. Three states, Connecticut, Florida and Iowa, have adopted laws to prevent children's accidents with guns.

Richard M. Manning, a lobbyist with the National Rifle Association, said his organization would work against both measures. The assault weapons bill appears to attack private gun ownership while the bill requiring guns to be under lock and key will make them useless for self-defense, he said.

Gun control advocates are applauding the administration's decision. Three years ago, Governor Schaefer's support for the gun control bill was a key reason the measure passed the legislature and a subsequent referendum despite a $6 million NRA campaign against it.

"The value of having these things available for sale to anyone who wants them is outweighed by the danger they cause the community as well as our law enforcement officers," said Bernie Horn, state legislative director for Washington-based Handgun Control Inc.

Administration officials admit they face a tough fight to get the bills through the legislature. Bills aimed at banning assault weapons have died twice before in the legislature.

"The key is what's the definition of an assault weapon," said Sen. Walter M. Baker, D-Cecil, chairman of the Senate Judicial Proceedings Committee.

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