Polls hearten advocates of Brady gun control bill


June 21, 1993|By ROGER SIMON

The folks over at Marylanders Against Handgun Abuse (MAHA) are looking at the polls these days. And they like what they see.

Poll after poll shows Americans in favor of gun control.

In fact, a recent Gallup poll showed that 80 percent of gun owners favor the Brady bill, which would impose a waiting period on handgun purchases.

A Louis Harris poll showed that Americans as a whole favor the Brady bill by 89-9 percent. Americans also favor a law banning the sale of all automatic and semi-automatic weapons by 63-31 percent.

"But more importantly," Vinny DeMarco, executive director of MAHA says, "the polls are showing that people are willing to vote for gun control candidates."

DeMarco points out that during the last presidential race, for example, a Mason-Dixon poll showed Bill Clinton trailing George Bush in Baltimore County by 38-46 percent.

But, in the same poll, voters were then asked: "If you knew that Bill Clinton supported a five-day national waiting period for the purchase of handguns, while George Bush has refused to endorse a five-day waiting period, for whom would you vote?"

This time, the numbers turned around with Clinton leading Bush 50-35 percent.

And it occurred to backers of gun control legislation that they now had a powerful tool in their hands.

So MAHA has formed a coalition of over 100 Maryland groups ranging from the Maryland Catholic Conference to the Baltimore Board of Rabbis to the Coalition of Black State Troopers to the Korean American Grocers Association.

Called Standing Together Against the Gun Epidemic (STAGE) the coalition has three goals: to educate their members on the hazards of gun ownership and the benefits of handgun control, to develop innovative ideas for reaching more people, and to "actively support" legislation "that would place reasonable but significant limits on the sale of handguns and handgun ammunition."

In the 1994 legislative session in Annapolis, MAHA will propose Maryland's first comprehensive gun control bill.

Though the details are still to be worked out, DeMarco said the bill would include:

* A complete ban on assault weapons.

* A ban on ammunition magazines that contain more than 10 bullets.

* A limit on the number of handguns an individual can buy each month.

"Realistically, the way the legislature is stacked now, the odds aren't great for passage in 1994," DeMarco admitted.

But there is an election in 1994. And remember those polls on voters favoring gun control candidates?

"The goal of our new coalition will be to make gun control one of the major issues in the '94 elections in Maryland, from governor to states attorney to state legislature," DeMarco said.

The method is pretty simple: Ask each candidate how he or she stands on the comprehensive gun control bill.

And then advise all the members of the coalition, which represent tens of thousands of voters, the results.

"We believe candidates who support gun control will be greatly helped in their election," DeMarco said. "Polls show that swing voters swing to gun control candidates."

So even if the comprehensive gun control bill fails in the 1994 session, DeMarco believes enough pro-gun control candidates will be elected in 1994 to pass the bill in future sessions.

One person who helped form the coalition, Baltimore City States Attorney Stuart Simms, quietly explained to me recently why he is a supporter of gun control.

"I take it personally," he said. "I am not an anti-handgun zealot. But we get visitors from our sister cities in Japan and Canada and other countries, and they see what our gun problem is like here, and they say: 'You folks are crazy.'

"I think Maryland can continue to be the leader in forcing this debate forward. We can't arrest our way out of this problem. Our national arms race has escalated to absurd proportions. Gun control is vital to our domestic future."

To DeMarco, the next few years are going to be critical ones.

"The people of Maryland are tired of the legislature knuckling under to the gun lobby," he said. "They demand gun control. And they demand it now."

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