Assault Pistols under Assault

March 08, 1994

This is the week when the assault on assault pistols gets under way in the General Assembly. In both the House and

Senate, committees are preparing to approve bills that would ban 18 such semi-automatic weapons in Maryland, along with a ban on high-capacity ammunition magazines with 20 or more cartridges. It's a minimal step for curbing handguns violence, but an important one.

These destructive weapons are increasingly favored by criminals. There is little or no sporting or self-defense use. It makes sense to get these weapons off the streets and off the shelves of gun stores.

It will be a tough fight. The bills should clear House and Senate panels -- perhaps as early as today -- but there are problems, especially when debate begins on the Senate floor.

Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller had to pull an end-run on the prime gun-control foe, Sen. Walter Baker, D-Cecil, who vowed to kill any gun bill sent his way. So the assault-weapons measure was dispatched to a different committee because it deals with banning pistols from legislative buildings. That section of the state code doesn't come under the jurisdiction of Mr. Baker's panel. The bill is expected to be amended in committee to ban assault pistols throughout Maryland.

The Cecil County senator is crying foul; he claims this move will undermine the Senate's committee system and destroy Senate tradition. It will do no such thing. Mr. Miller is playing by the same Senate rules as Mr. Baker, only this time Mr. Baker got out-smarted.

Mr. Baker will use stalling tactics, including a filibuster, and attempt to weaken the bill so it is rendered meaningless or turn it into a sweeping gun-control bill that won't pass. One of his allies, American Joe Miedusiewski, is trying to get the bill re-referred to Mr. Baker's committee -- a sure death penalty. This is ironic because Mr. Miedusiewski, a candidate for governor, attended a January press conference to show support for a tough package of handgun measures; now he wants to appease the other side, too.

Poll after poll shows public support is high for getting handguns off the streets. Yet state legislators remain cowed. Plans to push for a full-blown handgun licensing system are all but shelved. What remains is the effort to ban assault pistols.

Lawmakers will have a tough time convincing voters they truly zTC care about ending violence if they once again reject a ban on assault pistols. They had better beware that their actions are being carefully watched. The public wants legislators to stop the proliferation of guns. Are they listening?

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