Reagan's switch not gaining votes for Brady bill Legislators don't see tide turning in state

April 07, 1991|By Tom Bowman | Tom Bowman,Washington Bureau of The Sun

WASHINGTON -- Former President Reagan's endorsement of a seven-day waiting period for handgun purchases appears to have had little effect in Garrett County.

RTC According to their congresswoman, residents of the state's westernmost county are strongly against the gun-control measure, dubbed the Brady bill, after Mr. Reagan's former press secretary who was wounded in the 1981 assassination attempt on the president.

"I've had one after another come in against the Brady bill," said Representative Beverly B. Byron, D-Md.-6th, after a tour of the county on Monday, four days after Mr. Reagan endorsed the measure at a speech marking the 10th anniversary of the attempt on his life. "I haven't had anyone come in in favor of it."

Mrs. Byron voted against the measure in 1988, and she plans on doing the same next month when it is expected to come up for a vote.

Besides requiring a seven-day waiting period, the Brady bill would permit, but not require background checks by state and local authorities on potential gun buyers and would do little to remove guns from the streets, she argued.

"Right now we're talking about a situation where 85 percent of guns are illegally obtained," she said. "I don't see it making much of an impact on the criminal elements."

The Frederick Democrat is uncertain whether the Reagan announcement will sway many members, although, "I think it's going to have a great deal of effect as far as rhetoric is concerned."

But supporters of the measure hope that the backing of Mr. Reagan, a lifetime member of the National Rifle Association, will swing enough votes to ensure passage of the bill this year.

"I really think it's going to get the momentum going," said Susan Whitmore of Handgun Control Inc. "It shows it's a non-partisan issue."

Ms. Whitmore brushed aside claims that the waiting-period measure will not reduce the number of guns on the street, noting that law enforcement officials who will be involved in the background checks support it. "It's going to help put a dent in illegal gun trafficking," she said.

Mrs. Byron, Representative Helen Delich Bentley, R-Md.-2nd, and former Representative Roy P. Dyson, D-Md.-1st, backed an amendment to Omnibus Drug bill in 1988 that removed the seven-day waiting period and substituted a requirement that the Justice Department devise a plan to identify felons, who are ineligible to own guns.

The other five members of the Maryland House delegation opposed the substitute and backed the Brady bill. The state's two senators also backed the Brady bill.

Mrs. Bentley was accused of flip-flopping on the vote by Brady bill supporters who said she had assured them of her support. "I don't see it as a flip-flop," the Lutherville Republican said, noting that the substitute amendment was the only measure before the House.

"I was a co-sponsor in the 101st Congress and a co-sponsor in the [current] 102nd Congress," Mrs. Bentley said, adding that she would vote in favor of the bill. Mr. Reagan's endorsement of the waiting period "will help put it through," she said. "I think it will pass."

Representative Wayne T. Gilchrest, R-Md.-1st, said he is inclined to support the Brady bill, although he wants to study the issue further.

"I would lean toward the Brady bill, at least it's something rather than nothing," said Mr. Gilchrest, who said his constituents are -- split on the Brady bill. But the freshman Republican said he is still concerned about the number of illegal guns on the streets.

"The people we've got to get to are the people who are selling handguns illegally," he said.

During his campaign last year, Mr. Gilchrest said he could support a seven-day waiting period, although he said in a campaign position paper that no additional firearms laws were needed.

He denied Wednesday that he was playing both sides of the issue, saying, "I think we need to go further and figure out a way to stop trafficking in handguns."

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