Deja Vu All Over Again on Guns

March 28, 1991

Advocates of a ban on so-called assault weapons are scheduled to call on Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller Jr. this morning. They want him to get the bill out a committee. If he agrees to try -- and he should -- it will be "deja vu all over again." He's been there twice before.

In the final days of the General Assembly's 1988 session, after the House of Delegates passed a bill banning Saturday Night Specials, the Senate bill was thought to be dead and buried in the Senate Judicial Proceedings Committee. Mr. Miller helped prevail on Chairman Walter M. Baker, D-Cecil, to hold the vote that sent a watered-down version of it to the full Senate. Senator Baker also agreed not to filibuster against the committee's version of the bill.

It passed, became law and withstood a referendum challenge by the National Rifle Assn. The public spoke loud and clear in favor of fighting crime by outlawing certain crime-weapons.

This year the House passed a good, strong bill aimed at stopping the swelling tide of what is becoming the weapon of choice for criminals -- military style semi-automatics. The Senate Judicial Proceedings Committee voted down a similar version. It might not have if Senator Miller had been able to talk to Chairman Baker before the vote. He called him -- but got through minutes too late.

Now, however, gun control forces have agreed to scale the bill back, and are willing to go even further if that is what is needed to get some bill. At least we suspect they are. We hope they are. Even a bare bones bill is better than nothing.

A bare bones bill in our view would be one banning future sales of some -- the most dangerous -- of the 39 semi-automatics specified in the House-passed ban, and to ban magazines of over 20 rounds of ammunition. That's not much of a law, but it's something. If this legislation would reduce the future arsenal of assault weapons in Maryland by only 10 or 20 percent -- and it no doubt would -- that would save at least a few lives. The more of these weapons there are around, the more likely they are to end up on in the hands of criminal, careless or angry hands.

Some people may dispute that. Others agree but still insist on their right to own such weapons with no inconvenience. So be it. But it's too important a disagreement, with too much at stake, not to be voted up or down by the full Senate. The president of the Senate owes his chamber -- and all his members' constituents -- the right to a vote.

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