Activists begin push for gun safety bill

February 07, 1992|By Laura Lippman | Laura Lippman,Annapolis Bureau

ANNAPOLIS -- Sally Welch, whose 15-year-old son was shot and killed in a relative's home, wants Maryland legislators to know exactly what has changed since they killed off a gun safety bill last year.

The bill has changed, as proponents respond to some of the criticisms that helped defeat it last year. The politics have changed, and a Senate committee that killed it a year ago may treat it move favorably.

But most importantly to Ms. Welch, nine more Maryland families have faced the same tragedy she experienced in 1988, with three children dying and six others suffering injuries in household gun accidents.

"You teach your children how to take care of themselves," Ms. Welch said. " 'Look both ways crossing the street -- be careful.' 'Don't run with a pen in your hand -- you might put your eye out.'

"It just seems like it all went down the tubes because someone else didn't care as much as I did."

Ms. Welch will be in Annapolis today to recount her story, as Marylanders Against Handgun Abuse Inc. launches its push for the bill.

Ms. Welch's son -- more than three years later, she prefers not to say or hear his name -- was shot Oct. 5, 1988, by his cousin, who wasplaying with a gun he found on his father's night stand.

Under Gov. William Donald Schaefer's bill, guns would have to be stored so no one under 18 can reach them. This means the guns must be under lock and key, stored in a locked box, or have a trigger lock. The maximum penalty for violations would be one year in prison and a $1,000 fine.

Seven states have similar legislation and the Maryland proposal has support from law enforcement officials and doctors. But the National Rifle Association and the Maryland State Pistol and Rifle Association plan to fight the bill. Last year's bill specified that gun owners use trigger locks, which many owners found objectionable. James L. Milner of the NRA said this year's version is unacceptable, because it still requires locks on loaded guns, which can be dangerous.

Last year's bill passed the House of Delegates but died on a 6-5 vote in the Senate Judicial Proceedings Committee because the committee was killing all gun-related legislation last year.

The reason was simple, said Sen. Philip C. Jimeno, D-Anne Arundel. The committee wanted to make sure that a controversial assault weapons ban was not amended to any other gun law. This year, there is no such sweeping agreement. "Any bill along these lines does make sense," Mr. Jimeno said yesterday of the safety legislation, noting he has not read the bill yet. "The concept I can certainly support."

The first hearings on gun-related legislation will be held Monday before the House Judiciary Committee.

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