The City Council last night gave preliminary approval to a bill that would require gun owners to keep their weapons under lock and key so they can't be used by minors.
The bill, introduced by Councilman Anthony J. Ambridge, D-2nd, would require gun owners either to lock away firearms or to use trigger locks to render them inoperable. It also would make it unlawful to store a firearm and ammunition together. Violators could be fined up to $1,000 and/or be jailed for a year.
The council tentatively approved the bill by a unanimous vote. The measure is expected to come up for a final vote next Monday.
If the bill is enacted, Baltimore would become the first jurisdiction in the state to require firearms to be kept under lock and key.
A similar bill -- introduced into the recent session of the General Assembly -- died in committee -- a victim of an intense campaign by the gun lobby.
Last week, the Maryland Licensed Firearms Dealers Association Inc. threatened legal action if the bill is enacted.
David J. Miliman, counsel to the gun dealers' group, said the proposed city ordinance would violate a state law that grants sole authority to the state to regulate the possession of handguns by private owners.
"This is in every sense a regulatory bill because it tells people how to possess their guns and where to store them," said Miliman. "It's an attempt to regulate possession through the back door."
Licensed gun dealers in the city also would be required to post notices in their stores informing gun buyers of the rules.
Ambrose T. Hartman, deputy city solicitor, said the city has the right under home rule to enact legislation of this type so long as it doesn't conflict with state law.
"This particular bill is not inconsistent with the state law because it doesn't regulate whether or not a person can possess a gun," Hartman said.
During a Judiciary Committee hearing on the bill last week, only three people testified, all in support. The measure is backed by Marylanders Against Handgun Abuse, a statewide gun-control organization.
Miliman said the dealers' association was not made aware of the hearing and "we were not asked for any input on the legislation."