Gun control bill fares better than NRA in Md. delegation

October 17, 1993|By Nelson Schwartz | Nelson Schwartz,Contributing Writer

WASHINGTON -- Despite its bucks and bluster, the National Rifle Association hasn't made many friends among Maryland's congressional delegation.

Although the powerful lobby enjoys the strong support of freshman Republican Rep. Roscoe G. Bartlett, many of the state's members of Congress support gun control proposals like the Brady bill and a ban on assault weapons.

Baltimore Democrats Benjamin L. Cardin and Kweisi Mfume are advocates of both those plans, as are Prince George's County Democrat Albert R. Wynn and Montgomery County Republican Constance A. Morella.

Steny H. Hoyer, a member of the House Democratic leadership from Southern Maryland, is a strong supporter of the Brady bill but said he was still waiting to see the exact language of the assault weapon ban before making a final decision on whether to support it.

Republicans Wayne T. Gilchrest of the Eastern Shore and Helen Delich Bentley of Baltimore County back the Brady bill, which would impose a national waiting period of five business days before a handgun could be purchased. But they have so far withheld their support of an outright ban on assault weapons.

Democratic Senators Barbara A. Mikulski and Paul S. Sarbanes are also gun control backers.

The impact of the Brady bill, which is expected to pass later this year, would hardly be felt in Maryland, since the state already has a seven-day waiting period on handgun purchases. Advocates maintain, however, that it would reduce the number of guns flowing into Maryland from other states.

Bob Walker, legislative director of Washington-based Handgun Control Inc., said Maryland's representatives form "one of our strongest delegations."

"The only person who is firmly opposed to our position is Roscoe Bartlett," Mr. Walker said. "He is one of the most radical proponents of the idea that the Second Amendment gives everyone an unabridgable right to keep and bear arms."

Ironically, the NRA didn't favor Mr. Bartlett during his campaign last fall. Instead, the group backed Democratic candidate Thomas H. Hattery, a state delegate who had voted with the NRA repeatedly.

Mr. Bartlett isn't bitter. On the contrary, he is working hard to win the group's support and has received nearly $10,000 in contributions from the NRA this year. Mr. Bartlett said he expects to receive its endorsement when he runs for re-election in 1994.

The Western Maryland Republican has also introduced two bills that he said would preserve the rights of gun owners.

One proposal would reverse state laws banning ownership of any weapon bought for reasons of self-defense. The other would create a computerized system, using driver's licenses, to provide an instant background check and avoid the waiting backed by gun control groups.

"My position has nothing to do with a love of guns," said Mr. Bartlett. "It has to do with my love of the Constitution and my concern for the rights of citizens."

Mrs. Bentley received more than $6,000 from the NRA between 1982 and 1987. Although a backer of the Brady bill, she voted against bans on the manufacture of assault rifles. Mrs. Bentley said she has not received any contributions from the NRA in recent years, adding: "I just don't want any money from them. Period."

Mr. Gilchrest, whose Eastern Shore district includes many gun enthusiasts and NRA members, rejects the NRA ideology as "inflexible."

"They are a narrowly focused, unreasonable lobbying group," he said. "They are as flexible as granite."

The NRA also angered Mr. Gilchrest by backing former Rep. Tom McMillen when their old districts were combined last year.

The group spent just over $1,000 to help defeat Mr. Gilchrest, and he has not forgotten. "I can't get inside the NRA to see why they backed Tom McMillen over me when we had the same voting record," he said. "Maybe they thought they could work with him."

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