Schmoke seeks anti-gun 'climate' Push for billboard curbs buoys mayor

November 03, 1993|By JoAnna Daemmrich | JoAnna Daemmrich,Staff Writer

In the midst of a crowd of schoolchildren with fresh-scrubbed faces, Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke found some youthful inspiration yesterday to call for an aggressive campaign to get handguns off Baltimore's streets.

Mr. Schmoke urged community leaders who are fighting to make Baltimore the first city in the nation to ban almost all alcohol and tobacco billboards to set their sights on gun control.

"The next step is to move into the arena of guns," the mayor said to loud applause from community activists who rallied outside a West Baltimore liquor store in support of the landmark billboard legislation pending before the City Council.

"We want to create a climate of intolerance to guns because we are tired of having our young people shot and killed indiscriminately. We are tired of our people living in fear. We are tired of people saying it's their constitutional right to own an Uzi."

The mayor said he was heartened by the movement to rid the city's predominantly black neighborhoods of scores of liquor and tobacco billboards. In the past, a coalition of community groups also has pressured the city to crack down on illegal "junior billboards" posted on buildings.

City Councilwoman Sheila Dixon, D-4th, introduced twin bills this fall to prohibit billboards advertising liquor and cigarettes except in heavy industrial zones and near the Pimlico Race Course, Memorial Stadium and Oriole Park at Camden Yards.

The bill also would require neighborhood grocery and liquor stores to strip alcohol and cigarette ads from their exterior walls.

"Yes, it influences our young people," Ms. Dixon said yesterday, joining the mayor, Maryland Attorney General J. Joseph Curran Jr. and City Council President Mary Pat Clarke at Park Heights and Rogers avenues. More than 50 pupils from Arlington Elementary School, less than a block from the liquor store, clapped and cheered.

Many of the 9- and 10-year-olds used to walk past ads for beer, wine and spirits plastered all over the store. Members of the Citywide Liquor Coalition for Better Laws and Regulation declared victory yesterday when they arrived to find the signs gone.

After the rally, Mr. Schmoke said he hoped to replicate the "people power" support for the billboard curbs and direct it toward fighting for strict gun control laws.

The mayor said he supported a proposal by Marylanders Against Handgun Abuse, a statewide lobbying group, that would require prospective handgun owners to pass a safety test and be licensed.

The effort, certain to face stiff opposition in Annapolis, also would limit state residents to two handgun purchases a year and no more than 10 overall unless they received special permission from the state police.

The Schmoke administration has supported past attempts to ban assault weapons.

His strong comments about guns came as Baltimore, amid spiraling drug-related violence, continues on a pace to exceed last year's record 335 homicides. As of yesterday, there had been 296 this year, 19 more than at the same time last year.

The several dozen community activists at yesterday's rally cheered when Mr. Curran said he would stand by his recent opinion that local jurisdictions have the right under federal law to restrict tobacco advertising to discourage minors from illegally buying cigarettes.

The tobacco industry's chief lobbyist in Annapolis, Bruce C. Bereano, has expressed strong disagreement with the attorney general's interpretation of the federal law on cigarette advertising.

Liquor store owners, distributors and Penn Advertising of Baltimore Inc., which owns 90 percent of the legal, full-sized billboards in the city, have called the billboard bills discriminatory and anti-business.

Last week, more than 150 retailers rallied against the proposed legislation. They also plan to fight it at a public hearing scheduled for Nov. 17 at 5 p.m.

"This won't solve any of the problems the proponents say they will," said Fred M. Lauer, attorney for Penn Advertising.

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