Yesterday's 7-4 vote in the Senate Judicial Proceedings Committee against a ban on the sale of rapid-firing assault weapons and its subsequent 6-5 vote against requiring adults to keep guns locked or out of the reach of children was an insult to every thoughtful Marylander. Together, the two votes amounted to an abrogation of responsibility by the committee majority.
At the same time that the Senate committee was caving in to pressure tactics of the National Rifle Association, the House of Delegates was standing up to the NRA and other pro-gun interests, voting by a strong 80-55 margin to ban future sales of assault weapons. They recognize that the proliferation of assault weapons plays into the hands of criminals, especially those in the drug trade, as Baltimore Del. Elijah Cummings noted in his eloquent and moving speech to delegates yesterday.
The assault weapons measure would bar the sale of 38 different military-style models but allow existing owners of such arsenals to retain them. Police officials have discovered an alarming rise in their use by criminals. Two innocent bystanders were mowed down by thugs using these guns on a North Avenue corner recently. Some criminals in the recent rash of Baltimore-area holdups also carried rapid-firing weapons.
As for the second bill, its modest purpose -- gun safety -- is one every gun owner should be adhering to already. That many do not is reason enough to mandate this precaution against indiscriminate storage of potentially lethal firearms.
Some senators scrambled for excuses. Chairman Walter Baker of Cecil County claimed these bills would lead to a total ban on guns by the government. What hogwash! And even if that were the case, why, then, did Senator Baker work so hard to secure passage of the handgun-control legislation in 1988?
Even more preposterous was the stance of Sen. Janice Piccinini to explain her pivotal pro-gun vote. Ms. Piccinini, who stated in last year's election she would ban assault weapons (and told Attorney General J. Joseph Curran the same thing this year), said, "If you're going to deny property rights to people, the state has to make a convincing case and they haven't." Yet no one would be denied "property rights" by this bill. How many more crimes tied to assault weapons will it take before Ms. Piccinini feels there is a "convincing" case?
There is still time for Mr. Baker and his committee to re-visit this issue when the House-passed bill reaches them. It differs significantly from the bill the panel killed yesterday. Committee members have a responsibility to reconsider the dangers posed by the proliferation of assault weapons in heavily populated communities. As Sen. Mary Boergers of Montgomery County put it, "For those of us who live in urban areas, these kinds of weapons are terrorizing us."