Gun control advocates set target for '94 session Campaign launched for law similar to Virginia one limiting purchases

April 15, 1993|By Marina Sarris | Marina Sarris,Staff Writer

Just two days after the close of the 1993 General Assembly, Maryland gun control advocates revealed a major goal for next year -- a law here similar to the new law in Virginia that prevents people from buying more than one gun a month.

"We expect that will be part of our comprehensive legislation next year, along with an assault weapons ban," said Vincent "Vinny" DeMarco, executive director of the Baltimore-based Marylanders Against Handgun Abuse.

He spoke after a rally yesterday outside the State House in Annapolis, where members of his group voiced their frustration at Maryland lawmakers who again killed an assault weapons ban proposed by the governor.

Mr. DeMarco noted that the legislature did pass another gun control bill during the 90-day session that ended Monday. The new law closes a loophole that has enabled people to avoid criminal background checks when buying handguns and assault weapons from private collectors at gun shows.

It was the Virginia legislature, however, that took the spotlight on the issue this year by enacting its law limiting gun purchases.

Virginia had been notorious for its lax gun laws before legislators passed the gun control measure, one of the toughest in the nation. The National Rifle Association strongly opposed the law.

Mr. DeMarco said it is too early to provide details of his group's legislative package for 1994. However, two components will be a ban on semiautomatic assault weapons and some type of limit on gun purchases patterned loosely on the Virginia law.

He said he kicked off the campaign two days after the General Assembly adjourned because he will need to organize for the proposed legislation's success.

"We realized the Senate Judicial Proceedings Committee was stacked against us and that we needed a long-term grass-roots campaign to get a bill through," Mr. DeMarco said. That committee has been a roadblock to most gun control bills.

In an interview, a spokesman for the Maryland gun lobby said Mr. DeMarco's efforts are misguided.

"Vinny's barking up the wrong tree. You can't cure violent crime by attacking law-abiding citizens. You've got to get the violent criminals off the streets," said Robert McMurray of the Maryland State Rifle and Pistol Association.

"Back in 1988 Vinny was screaming for a handgun ban. People believed him and gave him the law he wanted [banning certain cheap handguns,] but the crime didn't stop. It didn't even slow down. It got worse."

Mr. McMurray says the answer is tough anti-crime laws and strict law enforcement.

But Mr. DeMarco blames the spread of deadlier weapons for the continued violence since Maryland approved the ban on so-called "Saturday night specials" in 1988.

"The problem is technology is outpacing us and now manufacturers are making assault weapons," he said.

Although his group has never sought to ban all handguns, some victims of gun violence who spoke at the rally seemed to favor just that.

About two dozen people turned out for the event. A quilt embroidered with the names and photos of Marylanders whose lives were cut short by gunfire was on display.

Georgia Garrett told the group that her only son, 23-year-old Gerald Higgs, was shot to death on a street corner in West Baltimore March 22.

She said her son, a security guard, was helping a friend move into a home near a "drug-infested" area when he was shot in the head. The shooter mistook Mr. Higgs for someone else, she said.

"I want them not to allow people to sell guns to anyone. Guns are being bought like candy," Mrs. Garrett said.

She brought a poster bearing photos of her son and his surviving baby daughter, nieces and nephews. The inscription at top said, "We'll always love you and miss you a lot."

Holding back tears, Mrs. Garrett noted that her granddaughter is too young to remember her father. "He will just be a picture to her."

Mr. DeMarco said that as part of its campaign, his group is helping sponsor a daylong symposium on gun violence April 30 at Johns Hopkins University.

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