State police may lose gun ban power

February 24, 1991|By John W. Frece | John W. Frece,Annapolis Bureau of The Sun

ANNAPOLIS -- An assault weapons ban in Maryland propose by the Schaefer administration would be placed under the authority of the state Handgun Roster Board rather than the state police superintendent if amendments to be presented to the House Judiciary Committee this week are adopted.

The amendments were requested by Judiciary Chairman John S. Arnick, D-Baltimore County, and are supported by the governor. Mr. Arnick said he was acting in response to concerns by committee members about vesting the authority to ban weapons in a single law-enforcement officer.

"It takes all the power away from one man, which none of the opponents like," Mr. Arnick said.

The nine-member Handgun Roster Board, created in 1988 to decide which handguns may be sold in Maryland, includes representatives of the gun industry and gun users.

Davis S. Iannucci, the governor's chief legislative officer, said: "What's important is the administrative flexibility to look at weapons that are still assault weapons and are just minor variations of banned weapons on the list. What entity has that power is not so crucial as that some entity has that power."

But Robert A. McMurray, spokesman for the Maryland State Rifle and Pistol Association, said that the shift "feeds into the general agenda these people have to ban all guns of all types."

"If they managed to use this to get rifles and shotguns into the Roster Board, it then removes the decision-making process from the legislature . . . and it gives the decision-making power to appointed bureaucrats who don't have to answer to the people," he said.

As initially drafted, the legislation would ban 39 specific semiautomatic pistols, rifles and shotguns. Marylanders who already own such weapons would have to obtain a new certificate from the state police similar to a handgun permit.

The bill also would grant the state police superintendent authority to add copies of specifically banned guns to the list, or to add any gun "substantially similar in design and purpose" to those banned.

To win some more votes for the bill, the Schaefer administration has proposed an amendment that would delete that second, broader authority to add guns to the list.

At a hearing earlier this month, the National Rifle Association and other opponents of the bill complained there is little evidence that assault weapons figure in a large number of crimes.

Mr. Arnick said his committee, which is generally believed to be almost evenly split, could vote on the bill this week.

Some members of the Judiciary Committee have said that while they could be persuaded to vote for a bill that simply bans a specific list of assault weapons, they do not want to confer power to anyone to add other guns to the list.

"I will support the bill if it is a gun-by-gun ban on semiautomatic, assault weapons, said Delegate D. Bruce Poole, D-Washington. "I will not support it if we give broad powers to the superintendent." The Handgun Roster Board amendment, he added, "wouldn't gain my support if it were offered."

From the perspective of opponents of the bill, Mr. McMurray said the question of whether power to add to a list of banned guns rests with the superintendent or the Roster Board was "a Sophie's Choice." The reference is to the book and movie about a woman who has to choose which of her children will be sent to a German concentration camp.

"Our position is that there should be no law at all," Mr. McMurray said.

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