Religious leaders in Baltimore stepped up their campaign for a stronger gun control law yesterday as broad groups of Christians and Jews united behind House Bill 1283 and prepared to send bus loads of supporters to Annapolis Tuesday for a hearing on the proposed legislation.
"The need for licensing is what has galvanized people," Vincent DeMarco, executive director of Marylanders Against Handgun Abuse, said at a news conference at Baltimore's Beth Am Synagogue.
The synagogue, at 2501 Eutaw Place, is on the edge of the Reservoir Hill neighborhood, where gunfire and sirens are heard frequently, night and day.
Beth Am's rabbi, Ira Schiffer, said the bill being promoted by Mr. DeMarco's organization is backed by many Baltimore-area Jewish congregations and their leaders, including the Baltimore Board of Rabbis, of which Rabbi Schiffer is the immediate past president.
"We cannot turn our backs on the deaths of our young people," the rabbi said. "We cannot tolerate another needless death of a child."
The Rev. Robert Kearns, pastor of St. Peter Claver Roman Catholic Church in West Baltimore, spoke of the gunfire that he hears "all the time." He said he is thankful when it is followed by silence instead of the sound of sirens and helicopters, because silence suggests the possibility that no one was killed.
Father Kearns represented Archbishop William H. Keeler and Auxiliary Bishop John H. Ricard in announcing that the Baltimore Catholic Archdiocese -- which earlier had supported stronger gun control legislation generally -- is specifically backing House Bill 1283.
"But more important than that, I represent families, especially in West Baltimore -- mothers and their children," the priest said.
Among other things, the bill would:
* Require a license containing the purchaser's photograph for handgun and ammunition purchases. License applicants would be fingerprinted and would undergo "a thorough background check," Mr. DeMarco said.
* Expand the list of those denied handgun ownership to include everyone under the age of 21.
* Ban the manufacture, sale and possession of so-called assault weapons, those with magazines allowing more than 10 rounds to be fired without reloading.
* Subject private gun sales between individuals to the same restrictions as retail transactions.
John C. Springer, director of Baltimore Clergy and Laity Concerned, said weaker gun control proposals before the General Assembly are giving legislators "excuses to do something less than this bill."
Other clergy and lay people announcing support for House Bill 1283 said they represented the Episcopal, Presbyterian and Evangelical Lutheran churches in the Baltimore area.
lTC The Rev. Sidney Daniels, speaking for the Interdenominational Ministerial Alliance, said, "We always hear the cry that this bill will not solve the problem . . . the problem of the proliferation of handguns in our community. We know it won't, but it's a step in the right direction."
Mr. DeMarco said the 23-member House Judiciary Committee, which has scheduled a hearing on the bill in Annapolis at 1 p.m. Tuesday, is nearly evenly divided between supporters and opponents, with 10 members known to be for it and 11 assumed to be against it.
Mr. Springer said demonstrators for the bill will assemble Tuesday morning at the Stony Run Friends Meeting House, 5116 N. Charles St., from which free bus transportation to Annapolis will be provided. Information: 889-8333.