State senators refuse to ban assault arms

March 09, 1991|By Peter Jensen | Peter Jensen,Annapolis Bureau of The Sun

ANNAPOLIS -- Despite a last-minute plea for a postponement from Gov. William Donald Schaefer, a Senate committee killed the administration's proposed ban on assault weapons yesterday.

The 7-4 vote by the Judicial Proceedings Committee was the first major loss for Governor Schaefer this session, but administration officials and gun control advocates were not willing to write off the legislation as a lost cause.

Within hours of the committee's action, the House of Delegates voted 80-55 for their version of the gun ban, and proponents hinted that they might yet find a way to get the issue reconsidered in the Senate next week.

"In Annapolis, sometimes things that look dead become undead," said David S. Iannucci, the governor's chief legislative officer. "The Senate has not considered the House amendments, and it's a different bill they'll be looking at."

The administration's bill would ban the sale or transfer of 39 types of semiautomatic, military-style guns and require current owners to obtain a permit. The House version reduced the list to 38 types of weapons but would permit the state's Handgun Roster Board to ban others that were considered copies of the guns on the list.

As expected, the Senate committee also rejected on a 6-5 vote another Schaefer administration proposal to require adults to keep loaded firearms locked or out of the reach of minors or face a criminal penalty. A similar bill is pending on the House floor.

Any resurrection of the assault weapons bill will almost certainly require some unlikely help from Sen. Walter M. Baker, D-Cecil, the committee's conservative chairman and an opponent of gun control. Mr. Baker promised after the vote that his committee would entertain no more gun legislation this year.

According to Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller Jr., D-Prince George's, Mr. Baker was prepared to ask for a vote to kill the bills immediately after a hearing Thursday but was persuaded to wait until yesterday morning.

Minutes before the committee's vote yesterday, Governor Schaefer called Mr. Baker to ask for a further delay. Mr. Baker refused, and committee members could hear him tell the governor, "I think the process has gone this far. . . . We might as well go through with it."

Two of the bill's supporters, Sen. John A. Pica Jr., D-Baltimore, and Sen. Howard A. Denis, R-Montgomery, then attempted to strike a compromise through amendments that would, among other things, shorten the list of banned guns. Those efforts failed.

Governor Schaefer blamed the loss on Senator Baker and Sen. Janice Piccinini, D-Baltimore County, a freshman who supported assault-weapons ban during last fall's campaign but ended up voting against the bill. He also blamed pressure exerted on legislators by the "gun lobby."

Administration officials maintain that if Senator Piccinini had voted for the bill, they could have found the deciding sixth vote, too. Schaefer aides also say a majority of senators would have supported the legislation if it had gone to the floor.

"I don't understand [Senator] Baker," Mr. Schaefer said after the vote. "Probably he thinks he's immune from assault guns, but I think they're going to be coming to his county. He certainly has endangered the lives of police officers and innocent civilians."

The House version of the bill passed after a riveting, emotional appeal from Delegate Elijah E. Cummings, D-Baltimore.

"Come walk with me in the 39th District," he said of his high-crime district in the center of Baltimore. "Come walk with me to see the autopsy of someone whose head has been blown off with one of these weapons. . . . Come walk with me to the funeral of a young man whose casket they can't open because his face is blown off."

"If that's what the NRA wants," Mr. Cummings shouted to his colleagues, "I'm against it."

Richard M. Manning, a lobbyist with the National Rifle Association, acknowledged that the administration might find a way to revive the bill but questioned whether that was a likely outcome.

"Nothing's over-over until April 8th at midnight" when the 90-day General Assembly session ends, Mr. Manning said. But "I'd rather be in my position than in theirs."

Three years ago, Mr. Baker's committee killed a Senate version of a bill to ban cheap and easily-concealed handguns but ultimately approved a heavily-amended House version. With Governor Schaefer's help, the law survived a subsequent referendum despite a $6 million campaign financed by the NRA.

"There's precedent for legislation in the Maryland legislature rejected in the Senate to still become law," said David S. Weaver, a gun control lobbyist.

Senate vote on gun bills

Here's how the Senate Judicial Proceedings Committee voted yesterday on the Schaefer administration's proposed gun legislation:

On the bill to ban assault weapons:

Yes (4)

&Mary Boergers, D-Montgomery

Howard A. Denis, R-Montgomery

Ralph M. Hughes, D-Baltimore

John A. Pica Jr., D-Baltimore

No (7)

7-Walter M. Baker, D-Eastern Shore -- chairman

Norman R. Stone Jr., D-Baltimore County -- vice chairman

Habern W. Freeman Jr., D-Harford

Philip C. Jimeno, D-Anne Arundel

Frederick C. Malkus Jr., D-Dorchester

Donald F. Munson, R-Washington

Janice Piccinini, D-Baltimore County

On the bill to make it a misdemeanor for persons to leave loadeguns where children may gain access to them:

Yes (5)

&Mary Boergers, D-Montgomery

Howard A. Denis, R-Montgomery

Ralph M. Hughes, D-Baltimore

John A. Pica Jr., D-Baltimore

Janice Piccinini, D-Baltimore County

No (6)

7-Walter M. Baker, D-Eastern Shore -- chairman

Norman R. Stone Jr., D-Baltimore County -- vice chairman

Habern W. Freeman Jr., D-Harford

Philip C. Jimeno, D-Anne Arundel

Frederick C. Malkus Jr., D-Dorchester

Donald F. Munson, R-Washington

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