Clergy group endorses gun control legislation Proposal to be introduced in '94

November 14, 1993|By Alisa Samuels | Alisa Samuels,Staff Writer

A group of Howard County clergy, tired of the gun-related violence erupting statewide, has endorsed a comprehensive gun control proposal that would give Maryland one of the nation's toughest handgun laws.

"The access to guns is just too easy," said George W. Martin, president of the six-year-old Howard County Clergy for Social Justice and a deacon at St. John The Evangelist Roman Catholic Church in Columbia. "We've come to such a stage that we've gotten out of hand. We support gun control and this legislation."

The 40-member interdenominational group plans to contact local legislators to seek support for the measure expected to be introduced in the 1994 General Assembly by gun control advocates.

Members also plan to attend a Jan. 17 rally in Annapolis with a coalition of 100 community groups and clergy to support the proposal.

Marylanders Against Handgun Abuse, a statewide lobbying group, drafted the proposal, which would:

* Require a license from state police to buy handguns or ammunition.

* Ban assault weapons and high capacity ammunition magazines.

* Impose civil liability on anyone who illegally transfers handguns for any damages caused by their transferred handguns.

* Limit Marylanders to two handgun purchases a year, and restrict total ownership to no more than 10 handguns per resident, unless the resident received permission from state police.

* Require Marylanders to pass a handgun safety test.

* Prohibit people under 21, and those who have been convicted of child abuse or domestic abuse from buying or possessing handguns.

"It's a powerful way to reduce gun violence in our state, and people in Maryland support it," said Vincent DeMarco, executive director for Marylanders Against Handgun Abuse. He said a poll conducted by Peter D. Hart Research Associates in September found 80 percent of Marylanders support a comprehensive gun control bill.

But Robert McMurray, vice president of the Maryland State Rifle and Pistol Association, said he doubts support is that high. That's an incredibly radical proposal," he said.

He said stricter gun control won't work because criminals will create a black market to get guns. Stricter law enforcement and more police officers will reduce the violence, he said.

"This is going to be a difficult battle, but we'll win," Mr. McMurray predicted.

But the Howard County clergy cast the gun control measure as something reasonable.

"You have the right to buy the gun, but you should go through some checks that you're a responsible individual [to own a gun] and know how and what to do with it," Mr. Martin said.

He added, "It's not to say this is going to cure the problem. There are deeper issues here."

The violence striking many Marylanders, including children, isn't as prevalent in Howard County, "but that doesn't mean we're not concerned," said Rabbi Martin Siegel of the Columbia Jewish Congregation who chairs the clergy group.

"It's a moral issue," he said, calling violence "the ultimate sin of our time. . . . If religion doesn't have anything to say about the quality of life, what is it?"

This isn't the first time the Howard County Clergy for Social Justice has supported gun control. Three years ago, it supported a bill that eventually was defeated in the legislature.

Addressing gun control, homelessness, racism and other social issues is the group's purpose.

"Our theme is a more just society," said Rabbi Siegel, a founder of the group and past president.

The group, which meets at the Meeting House in Oakland Mills, has sought low-income housing for the poor and shelter for the homeless and initiated violence prevention and peer mediation programs in county high schools.

"We've shown that if the religious community will speak with a united voice on moral issues, it can have a real impact for good," Rabbi Siegel said. "We could be the largest force in the community if we unite."

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