Mike Miller's Handgun Trap

February 16, 1994

Is Maryland's Senate president playing a slick game of hide-and-seek with handgun control supporters? Is he forming a subtle alliance with an anti-gun control senator so that all handgun measures will die in committee this session?

That's the way it looks, judging from the actions of President Thomas V. Mike Miller of Prince George's County. After mouthing favorable words about bringing a gun-control measure to a vote on the Senate floor, Mr. Miller has reversed course: He's lining up with Sen. Walter Baker, the powerful committee chairman who has vowed to kill every gun-restriction bill that comes before him.

Mr. Baker's plan is simple. Delay any action on these bills till the very last moment. Handgun bills aren't even scheduled for a hearing in his committee until March 16 -- the last day any Senate bill can receive a hearing in a Senate panel. Clearly, Mr. Baker will take his time mulling over these bills before rejecting them all.

And Mr. Miller is going along. He won't even allow another handgun bill in a different committee to receive a hearing until Mr. Baker's committee has gone first. The objective is clear: politely kill this handgun measure, too. (This bill is in a different committee because it would ban assault rifles in legislative buildings -- a matter that pertains to regulating state government, which is outside Mr. Baker's committee jurisdiction.)

Yet Mr. Miller said last month he felt an obligation to see that all senators got a chance to vote on this controversial matter that is very much on the public's mind. Why? "[S]o that, before the public goes to the voting booths, they'll know how their representatives stand on this important issue."

We believe Mr. Miller is a man of his word and that he will allow the entire Senate to vote on handgun legislation. But his current strategy casts doubts. What a sham it would be -- and what shame it would cast on the Senate president -- were the full Senate unable to vote on handgun control until late in the session, when the vote would be meaningless.

That would mock the legislative process. Mr. Miller can't have it both ways. Either Mike Miller meant it when he said an alternative gun-control bill will be voted on by the full Senate, or he was deceiving the public and his fellow senators.

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