Schaefer again seeks to ban some assault pistols Gun show law would be tightened, too

January 25, 1993|By Robert Ruby | Robert Ruby,Staff Writer

Some visitors to a gun show see a Heckler & Koch SP-89 as an object to admire.

"A mechanical beauty," said Joe Brusio, part of the crowd that was sometimes looking, sometimes buying yesterday at the gun show in the Annapolis National Guard armory.

"A nice conversation piece," said Don Whitcomb, the would-be seller.

An SP-89 is thick-bodied, slightly more than a foot long and midnight black. Because of its bulk, it looks more like a professional-quality drill, or a caulk gun, than an assault pistol capable of firing a dozen shots in the time it takes a person to take a breath.

"For defense, strictly defense," said Mr. Brusio, a physically imposing figure wearing a cowboy hat. "It's got really nice eye appeal."

Aides to Gov. William Donald Schaefer see the gun differently.

"If you see these pistols, you know they aren't used for hunting and sporting purposes," says David Iannucci, the governor's chief legislative lobbyist.

"They are designed for spraying crowds. It's hard to believe we even have to argue that."

Through legislation scheduled to be introduced today, Governor Schaefer is asking the General Assembly to ban 15 models of assault pistols, including the SP-89, from sale in Maryland.

The legislature rejected a measure in 1992 banning more than twice that number of weapons, and legislative leaders have forecast that this year's bill will fare no better.

Governor Schaefer promises to introduce a second measure to close a loophole in the state's gun registration law, by regulating private sellers at gun shows like the one held at the armory.

Individuals who say they are selling only from their private collections can now sell any legally available gun without requiring the buyer to complete state registration forms.

They can also sell handguns without requiring a buyer to wait seven days before taking possession of the weapon.

A buyer purchasing from a licensed dealer must complete the registration forms and wait the seven days.

The governor's bill would allow an individual to sell guns from a collection at a maximum of five shows a year, after paying a $10 fee for each show. To sell at more than five shows, the individual would have to be licensed as a gun dealer.

Officials want to ban assault pistols because of their lethality; they want to license private sellers to give the state more information about the types and number of weapons being sold.

"If I'm selling from my private collection, how many shows does the state let me go to before I become a dealer?" said State Police Sgt. Bernard Shaw, supervisor of the firearms-licensing section. "The only thing I'm asking is that every gun sale be registered."

Governor Schaefer was, in effect, the paid host for the Annapolis show. Southeastern Guns & Knives of Portsmouth, Va., paid the state National Guard $1,812 to rent the armory, and in turn charged the 25 exhibitors for display space and charged visitors a $4 admission fee.

A red arrow, with the words "Gun Show," pointed the way to a full parking lot, and any merchant would have been flattered by the crowds -- more than 1,000 people on Saturday, according to Gary Mendelson, the promoter, and hundreds more yesterday.

Exhibitors offered Civil War sabers, accessories for a semi-automatic AK-47, holsters, videotapes on shooting technique, cartridges of every caliber, a 19th-century Navy boarding ax.

There were new rifles manufactured in China, pistols from Austria, assault pistols made in Germany and the United States.

The governor's proposals found few if any supporters.

"I believe in 'quality' firearms legislation," said Thomas Dykes, TC Virginian selling antique guns from his own collection, and waving a 19th-century derringer in the air.

Licensing private sellers was not quality, he said: "This my hobby. You can't dictate what I do with my leisure time."

People lingering at Don Whitcomb's SP-89 were mystified by the proposal for a ban.

Mr. Whitcomb, who operates a firearms and hunting business in Bowie called "D & S -- Ugly Mike's," displayed about a dozen weapons neatly arranged on a white tablecloth. A Tec-9, another assault pistol on the governor's list of weapons to be banned, was offered for $219; Mr. Whitcomb said that in two years he had sold three.

The SP-89 is a harder sell, given its price of $1,695. Mr. Whitcomb has had this one example of the gun for two years.

"A lot of people like to look," he said, "but a lot of people don't have the money to buy."

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