Gun show bill survives Senate shooting gallery STATE HOUSE REPORT

March 26, 1993|By Marina Sarris | Marina Sarris,Staff Writer

The governor's proposal to regulate the sale of handguns and assault weapons at gun shows survived what probably was its toughest challenge in the General Assembly yesterday.

By a 9-2 vote, the bill sailed out of the Senate Judicial Proceedings Committee, a bastion of pro-gun sentiment where most gun control bills in Maryland meet their death. The committee's action means the bill has a good chance of passage by the full legislature.

Although that bill survived, the committee shot down a more radical Schaefer administration bill that would have banned the sale of 15 types of assault pistols. That bill was a pared-down version of assault weapon bans introduced by Gov. William Donald Schaefer -- and killed by the same committee -- in 1991 and 1992.

Yesterday, the committee voted 8 to 3 against the assault pistol ban without discussion. The bill's death became almost a foregone conclusion this year when the panel lost two gun control supporters during a reshuffling of committee assignments in the Senate.

Committee member Mary Boergers, who favored the ban, complained that the conservative committee is a roadblock to gun control bills that a majority of the Senate would approve if given the chance to vote on them.

"I feel frustrated and angry that this committee is standing in the way of the views of a majority on the floor," said Senator Boergers, a Montgomery County Democrat. "Anything that has the word 'gun' in it can't get out of this committee, and that bothers me." She and other gun control supporters could take heart from the panel's approval of the gun show bill, which now goes to the full Senate.

David S. Iannucci, the governor's chief lobbyist, called the vote an important victory. "The bill closes a significant loophole that allows criminals and others to buy guns at gun shows that they would have been prohibited from buying at gun stores," he said.

Under state law, licensed gun dealers must require buyers to undergo a criminal background check and a seven-day wait before they pick up their weapons. A loophole in the law, $H however, enables private gun collectors to sell their wares at gun shows without those restrictions.

Private collectors make up about 5 percent of the vendors at the estimated 40 gun shows held in Maryland each year, but no one knows how many handguns and assault weapons they sell or to whom they sell them.

And that is the problem, Mr. Iannucci said. Convicted felons could buy guns without any hassle by patronizing the tables of private collectors at the shows, he said.

The Schaefer administration agreed to a few "minor" concessions to gain the support of gun dealers, Mr. Iannucci said.

A provision requiring sponsors of the gun shows to make sure that participants abide by the law was dropped. Some opponents had argued that promoters would pull out of gun shows -- effectively shutting them down -- if they were held responsible for any infractions.

A spokesman for the Maryland Rifle and Pistol Association, which opposes the legislation, downplayed its passage yesterday. "The most important part of this bill was that the government wanted to shut down gun shows, but they can't do that now. If the governor is claiming victory, it's a hollow victory," insisted spokesman Robert McMurray.

To improve the bill's chances, the governor told committee Chairman Walter M. Baker that he would not seek to amend the gun show measure on the Senate floor to include a ban on assault pistols. In the past, Senator Baker has been reluctant to pass gun measures out of his committee if unrelated gun proposals could be tacked onto them on the floor.

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