Knowledge of gun safety can't be verified by a written test


January 14, 1994|By DAN RODRICKS

One of the most important ideas floating around Annapolis this winter is the proposal that prospective handgun owners be required to get a license and, to that end, pass a safety test. This is a significant suggestion for a number of reasons, not the least of which is its potential to bring together the opposing sides in the handgun-control conflict. Hear me out.

The opponents in this debate agree on very little. Most of what we hear from the National Rifle Association is negative and even nutty. The NRA wants virtually no control of guns and, fortunately, is starting to lose not only important political battles but public support. On the other side, the extreme gun controllers won't be happy until handguns are vanquished from all but cops and soldiers. However, most groups favoring handgun control have made reasonable proposals that attempt to reduce the number of guns flowing into society, while acknowledging the right of Americans to own certain guns. This year Marylanders Against Handgun Abuse (MAHA) has proposed smart measures: limiting Maryland residents to two handgun purchases a year and forbidding anyone under the age of 21 from owning a handgun. Good ideas. If the General Assembly had any sense -- and guts -- its members would pass those measures during this session.

But check this out: MAHA also proposed that Marylanders be required to get a state license before buying a handgun or handgun ammunition. And, to get a license, you'd have to pass a safety test. The catch, for me anyway, is this: The safety test is a written examination. That's a joke, folks. To get a driver's license, you must show a state examiner that you can safely drive an automobile. Safety is equally a concern with handguns -- even the NRA admits that -- so we should require prospective handgun owners to demonstrate they have been adequately trained to handle and fire one. And why not have the NRA offer the instruction? A real safety test should take place on a firing range. A written exam to get a license for a handgun is silly.

Music to yawn to

So where did that long and bizarre build-up to the new format on WVRT-FM (104.3) lead? This is the station, purchased last year by Capitol Broadcasting, that tried to drive its adult listeners to Capitol's other Baltimore holding, WWMX-FM (106.5), by playing the same song continuously, hour after hour. By Wednesday the station was airing nothing but a ticking clock with an announcer occasionally declaring, "It's coming at 6!" Well, it came at 6 -- the new format. Barbra Streisand, Neil Diamond and Barry Manilow. It's the new SOFT 104. It's Big Pillow Music. Fluffy tunes. Misty watercolor melodies. Feathery, between-the-sheets music. Quick! Onto the next item before we fall asleep!

Grant to the homeless

Jim O'Conor -- the O'Conor in O'Conor, Piper & Flynn -- was driving through the city and, at a red light near the state office complex on Preston Street, saw a female panhandler.

"There were four or five cars up ahead of me," O'Conor says. "And the drivers in each of those cars waved her off. She had been rebuffed several times when she got to me. She looked like she really needed help."

But how did O'Conor know? These days, panhandlers are generally assumed to be scammers until proven otherwise. I've heard them described as "less than human." A good friend was berated near Camden Yards for giving money to one. Just yesterday, I heard a woman bemoan the arrival of "so-called homeless" panhandling in Baltimore County. Jim O'Conor says he doesn't make harsh judgments about people who beg in the streets. So he handed that woman a couple of bucks. "God bless you, sir," she said, and O'Conor drove off. Later in the day, when he had returned to his real estate office, he realized he had given her a one-dollar bill and a $50 bill.

"No, I didn't regret it," O'Conor says. "I'm sure that woman put it to good use, and when she saw [the $50 bill], if she got a little chuckle out of it herself, that's fine."

Want a good laugh?

I'm recommending "Das Barbecu," at Center Stage through Feb. 20, to everyone who needs a good laugh.

I told friends, colleagues and my favorite computer geek (he's a transplanted Texan, loves country-western music and has a crush on Laurie DeYoung), and now I'm telling y'all: For a night of great entertainment, scrounge up $23 and call the box office. I can't remember the last time I laughed so hard at something on a stage. You don't have to be a Wagner Head -- don't need to be a student of that mythical Teutonic opera thang -- to appreciate this show.

This is a Texas-style soap opera/blood feud inspired by Wagner's famed Ring cycle. It's a total hoot. (Wait till you hear "Makin' Guacamole" or see the Gary Larson-inspired Valkyries taking the dead Sigfried to Valhalla.) The music is terrific (as good as, if not better than, "Best Little Whorehouse"), the lyrics extremely clever, the singers superb. Cast members rip through a maddening number of costume and character changes.

Enough hype from me. Just see it.

Millie, we care

Remember Millie, that transplanted New Yorker with the "No Radio, Nothing in Trunk" sign displayed in her car window? She )) drove from Baltimore to the Eastern Shore last weekend. A waterman walked past her and her car, looked at Millie quizzically and said, "Who cares you got nothin' in your trunk?"

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