Weapons, Criminals and Children

February 21, 1991

The Judiciary Committee of the House of Delegates will soon vote on two much needed bills aimed at protecting people from firearms. Neither bill will unduly burden responsible citizens who want firearms for protection, hunting or target shooting. We urge the committee to approve the bills and send them to the full house.

The first bill would ban sale or other transfer of specified assault type-weapons in Maryland beginning this year and limit possession of such weapons to adults with permits beginning next year. The principal result of these provisions would be to stop the proliferation of such weapons here.

Assault weapons are relatively new on the market, yet are selling at an alarming rate. About 1,000 were purchased in the state last year. Here, as around the nation, these rapid-fire semi-automatic pistols and rifles are becoming the weapons of choice for criminals, especially drug and gang criminals. According to one study, semiautomatic pistols of the types specified in the bill are more frequently used in criminal acts than revolvers.

If something is not done to stop this trend line, the arsenal of assault-type weapons will be so large that every small-time hoodlum and deranged sociopath will have easy access to them. Today's occasional shocking case of multiple deaths caused by bursts of fire from such weapons will be tomorrow's routine news. The best time to do something about that is before it happens.

The second bill would require adults to store loaded guns in a place "reasonably" inaccessible to "unsupervised" children or to use a trigger lock. Several states have enacted such laws. In addition to the tragic accidents that occur in the home when children have access to loaded firearms, the availability of these weapons for use outside the home by minors is a threat to the community at large, both by accident and by crime. It is no small problem. More than 3,000 minors are killed each year by handguns alone in suicides, homicides and accidents. A Baltimore grand jury determined that half the boys in high school had taken a gun to school at least once. Where did they get them? Probably, as a Florida study of a similar situation showed, from home (86 percent).

Gun owners are tired of having their lifestyles blemished with the same brush as that used to paint criminals in a corner. Some legislative efforts (like some anti-gun rhetoric) go too far. But guns are such a menace that society has a right to expect safeguards that might impose some restraints and responsibilities on the law-abiding. These bills impose no real hardship on responsible gun owners, and they will reduce gun injuries and deaths inflicted by intent or by accident.

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