Crime looms large in campaigns Gun control seen as key issue

THE POLITICAL GAME

September 29, 1993|By C. Fraser Smith | C. Fraser Smith,Staff Writer

Some candidates already have started the house-to-house phase of their 1994 campaigns.

Out there on the mean streets, suburban as well as urban, they are finding fear. The reason, of course, is crime.

Everyone knows about Pam Basu, the Columbia woman killed in a carjacking last year. They probably read about a young man shot to death at a doughnut shop in Anne Arundel County. They hear other stories: a homeowner, threatened by a knife-wielding assailant in broad daylight, has a heart attack on the spot.

So the early campaigners are on notice. They demanded solutions. And, soon, they will be asked to take a position on gun control.

Those who say controls are useless report an unprecedented surge in gun purchases and requests for training in the handling of guns. Those who want to impose more control say the climate has never been better for their objectives.

At a news conference today in Severna Park, Barbie and Dick Willis are expected to join Marylanders Against Handgun Abuse in a call for stricter gun control laws. The Willises' 21-year-old son, Charlie, was shot to death in August by a customer at a Dunkin Donuts on Ritchie Highway.

The Willises say they have always supported gun control. But now they are joining community groups and churches committed to defeating politicians who try to block gun control laws.

The couple wants a comprehensive law designed to curb the flow of handguns, now numbering more than 1 million in vTC Maryland, according to Marylanders Against Handgun Abuse and others. Gun control advocates plan to push for introduction and passage of such a law in the 1994 legislature. It would set a limit on the number of handguns a person can buy, impose more intensive training for gun owners, increase regulation of private sales, and require the registration of handguns.

A recent poll commissioned by the handgun control organization shows considerable support for stricter gun regulation. The survey of 602 registered Marylander voters by Peter D. Hart Research Associates of Washington says a candidate's views on gun control could be more important than ever.

The issue may create its own group of swing voters.

"By better than three to one, voters report they would vote for a pro-gun control Democrat (59 percent) over an anti-gun control Republican (18 percent)," Hart reports. "The [results] are completely reversed, when we make the choice for governor between a pro-gun control Republican (52 percent) and an anti-gun control Democrat (19 percent)."

Only 17 percent of the respondents said they found the proposals too extreme while 27 percent said the proposals didn't go far enough.

"You can't just say you're for the bare minimum anymore," says Vincent DeMarco, executive director of Marylanders Against Handgun Abuse.

Bob McMurray, vice president of the Maryland State Rifle and Pistol Association, says, "Anything a criminal can do with a gun is already illegal. Now they're talking about restrictions on law-abiding citizens."

While he agrees that fear will be the backdrop for political debate this year and next, he says the voters' reaction is to buy more guns.

"Ever since the Pam Basu carjacking, the number of women purchasing handguns has skyrocketed," he says. "The requests we've gotten for training are at such a point that we are adding instructors as fast as we can. We cannot begin to meet the demand. My dentist just called me and said, "Take me and my wife out and teach us how to shoot.'

"The bottom line," he says, "is that people are coming to their senses."

The gun interests express confident, saying legislators are recanting support of measures promoted in the past by Mr. DeMarco's organization.

As lawmakers begin to focus on issues likely to drive the next General Assembly, it appears that crime and gun control will be high on the list.

Would-be foe praises Schmoke's decision

A campaign manager whose candidate would have opposed Baltimore Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke in a race for governor next year saw uncommon wisdom in the mayor's decision to skip the race despite a lead in the early polls and a bionic resume.

For prudence in a heady atmosphere, the veteran of many campaigns offered this high praise:

"He didn't buy his own hype."

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