Maryland clergy declare war on guns

November 25, 1993|By Frank P.L. Somerville | Frank P.L. Somerville,Staff Writer

A Lutheran bishop stood in the chancel of Baltimore's Episcopal cathedral yesterday, surrounded by Christian and Jewish religious leaders who had come together to pray for urban peace. On behalf of the whole group, he declared war on guns.

The battlefield will be the Maryland General Assembly in January. The cathedral at Charles Street and University Parkway was the site of the latest in a series of meetings arranged with the help of Marylanders Against Handgun Abuse, which is preparing a bill to strengthen the state's gun-control laws.

"A month or so ago," said Bishop George Paul Mocko, "our nation was shocked to read about half a dozen people killed in the troubles in Northern Ireland. "But in half a dozen of our cities, half a dozen people are killed by guns every week. The legislation we are proposing will not solve that problem entirely, but it will help. We need to do anything that will help."

Bishop Mocko heads the Delaware/Maryland Synod of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America.

Speaking for the Baltimore Jewish Council, Rabbi Richard Camras of Pikesville's Chizuk Amuno Congregation, said, "The Jewish community recognizes that violence in our society is an issue we can't ignore. We support this legislation. We are being overwhelmed by violence."

The Rev. Sidney Daniels, noting that Baltimore's Interdenominational Ministerial Alliance had backed the legislative proposals, said, "The wanton killing and easy access to guns must be stopped. Kids can get a handgun as easy as a lollipop. If cars are regulated, surely guns should be regulated."

Under the new proposals, a state license would be required, renewable every two years, to own or possess a handgun. State police would have up to 90 days to investigate a gun purchaser. The present waiting period in Maryland is seven days, and a permit is required only to carry a gun.

Both stiffer criminal penalties and increased civil liability are being proposed.

A person who transfers illegally a firearm or ammunition that is then used to cause death or injury could be liable for three times the monetary damages won by victims or their survivors.

Maryland Episcopal Bishop A. Theodore Eastman, host for yesterday's gathering, said, "In another room in this building, they are stuffing envelopes with invitations to 120 of our congregations, asking them all to participate in the Jan. 17 rally. I hope other churches will do the same."

Bishop Eastman was referring to Martin Luther King Jr. Day in Annapolis. Members of 23 religious groups -- Christian, Jewish and Muslim -- plan to come together at 5:30 p.m. at the Navy-Marine Corps Stadium off Rowe Boulevard to prepare for what they hope will be a well-attended rally in front of the State House at 6:30 p.m.

The purpose is to urge passage of the new measures against gun ownership and use that, by that time, will be in the form of a bill before the legislators.

The Maryland clergy and other gun-control advocates who came to the cathedral for the prayers and strategy briefings had been invited by four leaders of the current campaign: Mr. Daniels of the ministerial alliance, the Rev. David W. Rogers of Grace United Church of Christ, Auxiliary Bishop John H. Ricard of Baltimore's Roman Catholic archdiocese and Rabbi Donald R. Berlin of Temple Oheb Shalom.

Said Vincent DeMarco, executive director of Marylanders Against Handgun Abuse, "We have been moved by the prayer service here this morning. The religious community is tired of burying children killed by guns and tired of trying to assuage the grief of their parents. Our grass roots support began in the churches."

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