Schaefer seeks nationwide ban on assault guns

February 04, 1991|By Tom Bowman | Tom Bowman,Washington Bureau of The Sun

WASHINGTON -- Gov. William Donald Schaefer, who has asked the Maryland legislature to restrict and eventually ban the sale of assault weapons, plans to urge his fellow governors, Congress and the Bush administration to take a similar stand.

Mr. Schaefer is scheduled to introduce a resolution tomorrow before the National Governors' Association winter meeting that will ask the states' chief executives to prohibit the "sale, transfer and possession" of assault weapons.

The resolution also encourages the NGA to persuade Congress and the Bush administration to "ban the manufacture, sale and possession" of the weapons.

"It is obvious to me that restrictions imposed by Maryland or any other state will have only limited success unless there is a broader effort among all states and at the national level to restrict the sale of these dangerous weapons," Mr. Schaefer said in a statement prepared for the NGA's plenary session.

Assault weapons -- the weapon of choice among drug dealers and other criminals -- are semi-automatic weapons, such as the Uzi and the AK-47, with a high capacity for firepower. Police service revolvers are no match for criminals with such "greater firepower," Mr. Schaefer said.

"These assault weapons threaten the safety of all our citizens," said the governor, who was opposed by a foe of gun controls in last year's Democratic primary.

"These assault weapons were designed for the military. They were designed for combat. They are not a sporting weapon -- they have only one purpose -- to kill people."

Mr. Schaefer said he hoped the governors would consider the proposal at their next meeting in August.

But political observers predicted that the association would have a difficult time passing such a controversial proposal. The only NGA policy statement on guns came in 1989, when the governors endorsed an increase from five to 10 years in jail as a penalty for using a semi-automatic weapon in a drug felony or violent crime, according to NGA spokesman Rae Bond.

Two years ago, California became the first state to ban assault weapons after five children died in a Stockton, Calif., playground shooting. It was joined by New Jersey last year. Governor Schaefer also said that Delaware and New York are considering similar legislation.

Although he hopes states will adopt legislation banning assault weapons, the governor said that "only the federal government can ultimately end this deadly trade."

However, assault weapons legislation has stalled before Congress. Faced with opposition from conservatives and the Bush administration, House-Senate conferees dropped an assault weapons ban from a crime package last year. A similar measure has been introduced this year.

In 1988, Maryland became one of the first to enact a ban on small handguns.

Since then, a seven-day waiting period has been imposed on purchasers of assault weapons, but little else has been accomplished.

Mr. Schaefer's bill, now before the legislature, 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.

His other proposal would require adults to keep all guns under lock and key if it is reasonably likely that a 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.

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