Just what was the gun-toting guv aiming to do?

MIKE LITTWIN

March 17, 1993|By MIKE LITTWIN

We've known for a long time that the guv was -- and I don't want to get too Freudian here -- a little wacko.

Generally, though, he seemed pretty harmless, like the uncle in "Arsenic and Old Lace." Sure, he might have the state police track you down like you were a common criminal so he could write you a nasty -- but incredibly immature -- letter, but, hey, it wasn't like he was actually going to hurt anyone.

And then I saw the picture at the top of Page 1 of this newspaper yesterday.

You saw it, too. There was the guv (Pretty Boy Schaefer?) brandishing an automatic pistol. And not just anywhere. He was standing in a roomful of reporters, and, at one point, he even aimed the pistol directly at one.

This hits home.

Reporters are used to being, let's say, unpopular. In fact, in the last poll I saw on the subject, journalists were held in lower esteem than the IRS (although we were rated higher than snakes and congressmen).

As you might guess, this clearly undeserved low standing could hurt a sensitive person's feelings.

That's why they now have sensitive-reporters support groups. Here's a typical statement from a support-group session: "Now I can see where they'd hate George Will, but why me?"

Of all the people who don't like reporters, the guv is, by any reckoning, at the head of the class. He doesn't like reporters, Mickey Steinberg or anyone who ever voted against him.

But even if newspaper folk accept being disliked, most, except for Peter Arnett, try to avoid being fired on. So, when a bunch of reporters entered the briefing room to meet Schaefer and saw three automatic weapons on a table, they were understandably a little nervous.

"We were joking," said John Roll of the Associated Press, "that somebody ought to make sure the guns weren't loaded before we sat down."

The guv began his lecture on his plan to rid the state of certain automatic weapons. During his impassioned speech on the dangers of these weapons, he cleverly pointed an S.W.D Cobray Mac 11 at Roll, who was smiling, and said: "Some of you have never had [a gun] in your face. I bet you wouldn't be laughing. I bet you wouldn't be smiling. I don't know what would happen to your pants, but I can imagine."

Yes, that's what the guv, the highest elected official in the entire state, had to say.

What would Miss Manners think?

But let's forget the guv's attempt at bathroom humor and get to the important stuff: wherein he thinks he's Clint Eastwood.

This is a gun-control statement he's making, remember. Then he points the weapon at a reporter and basically questions whether he can hang tough in the face of real firepower. He did everything but say: Make my day.

So, yes, the guv is right. There are certain paranoid types -- say, psychos with D-FENS license plates or governors who get depressed when they receive less than 60 percent of the popular vote -- you wouldn't trust to handle an automatic weapon responsibly. All I could think of was people later saying: "He was a quiet governor who kept to himself."

Roll said he just laughed off the incident, noting that the gun was unloaded and Schaefer didn't have his finger on the trigger.

Apparently, Roll is a little tougher than I am. Guns scare me. Of course, scissors scare me. I still use the dull-edged kind they hand out in the first grade and won't cut anything with a consistency greater than Jell-O.

But it isn't just me.

The first rule of guns is that they're not toys. The second rule is that you don't point guns, other than the squirting variety, at people.

Even the National Rifle Association was offended by the governor's pointing a gun at a reporter. This is the same group that advocates a handgun in every bedroom and a bazooka in every garage. Of course, it also advocates responsible handling of the bazooka. Remember, bazookas don't kill people; people kill people.

There will be some people who think that Schaefer hurt his own cause by his irresponsible behavior.

I think they're wrong.

I think the guv actually made his point dramatically. To wit: If the governor of Maryland isn't sufficiently mature to handle these weapons, what makes you think the people who elected him are?

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