Firing-pin measure is attacked by those it's meant to protect Gun store holdups prompt proposal

April 27, 1992|By Michael A. Fletcher | Michael A. Fletcher,Staff Writer

In an attempt to stem a rising tide of gun store robberies, the Baltimore City Council is set to consider a bill requiring firearms retailers to stock weapons with their firing pins removed.

The proposal, scheduled to be introduced in the council today, is opposed by those most directly in the line of fire -- gun store owners.

Even the survivors of a Gardenville gun dealer slain during a brazen robbery in September say the law is unnecessary.

"I don't see any sense in this law," says Charles E. Scheuerman Jr., whose father was killed in the robbery.

But the sponsors of the bill say that the proposed ordinance would make gun stores a less attractive target for criminals.

"In the past year or so there has been a rash of robberies of gun stores, and there have been some murders," says Councilman Anthony J. Ambridge, a 2nd District Democrat and chief sponsor of the bill. "The motive is to steal guns, and those guns are finding their way onto the streets of Baltimore. . . . If the guns are rendered useless, there would be less incentive to steal them."

Mr. Scheuerman, who helps run the Northeast Gun Shop, says he doesn't need the City Council's help.

He patrols his family's Belair Road store with a loaded pistol strapped to his side to discourage anyone who might be tempted to steal some of the more than 1,000 guns on display.

The store is equipped with metal bars inside the windows and motion detectors on the roof. Potential customers are buzzed in through a door that remains locked even during business hours.

Other clerks eye customers as they come and go.

Mr. Scheuerman says security was stepped up after his father, Charles E. Scheuerman, was shot and killed during September's robbery.

The thieves also wounded a customer and looted 43 weapons from the shop. Nine men were arrested in the case, and six pleaded guilty last month.

The incident was among 19 gun store robberies in Maryland during the 18 months preceding February, says Bud Masterson, a spokesman for the federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms.

Those robberies resulted in the theft of 358 firearms, 50 of which have been recovered, he says.

Despite that, Mr. Scheuerman thinks the proposed ordinance is unnecessary.

He also says it is likely to be ineffective.

"People can get firing pins," he says. "You don't have to do any paperwork with the police to write a factory and order a firing pin."

L He also says the law would be a burden for gun store owners.

Mr. Scheuerman says he and the city's approximately 40 other gun retailers would need an on-site gunsmith to remove the firing pins from weapons.

And sometimes, the firing pin -- the device that strikes a bullet and causes it to shoot -- is so deeply embedded in a gun that it would require sending guns back to the factory to remove and replace firing pins.

Cradling a double-barreled shotgun, Mr. Scheuerman says, "Look at this. This is a $1,000 weapon. I'd have to tear it apart to get to the firing pin."

The idea of requiring that guns for sale be kept in an inoperable condition is not new.

But it is one that has found little support from lawmakers around the nation.

Mr. Ambridge and other gun-control advocates say they know of no jurisdiction with such a law.

A bill that would have added the requirement was shot down in a Senate committee during the past session of the General Assembly.

Rep. Helen Delich Bentley had announced that she was considering introducing a similar measure in Congress in the aftermath of a gun store robbery in Lansdowne in December.

But Mrs. Bentley, a 2nd District Republican, says she decided to slow down after "a couple of gun shop owners screamed loud and said it would be an impossible thing to handle."

She says she will meet soon with law enforcement officials and gun store owners before deciding whether to move forward with the proposal.

But Mr. Ambridge is ready to move ahead despite the opposition of store owners and a nettlesome legal question: whether the city even has the authority to pass the law because the state reserves the right to enact gun-control legislation under most conditions.

"We'll amend the bill to conform it to state law," assures Mr. Ambridge.

Mr. Ambridge, who says he owns several guns -- including a pistol passed down from a relative and a shotgun he uses for pheasant hunting and skeet shooting -- says his proposed law is needed to cut down the number of guns on the street.

"It is obvious that there are an abundance of illegal weapons on the street and an abundance of murders," he says. "This will help that because the typical thug does not know how to replace a firing pin. And if he tries, he'll be easier to track down."

But Mr. Scheuerman says he and his family can handle things at their store without the help of the City Council.

"When we had the robbery, my father was in here alone," he says. "Now we always have three or four people. . . . Now if somebody comes in here to do that, they know they'll get shot at, too."

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