Schaefer makes push for gun control plan

March 08, 1994|By Frank Langfitt | Frank Langfitt,Staff Writer

Flanked by a physician, a Roman Catholic bishop and the superintendent of the state police, Gov. William Donald Schaefer today urged legislators to defy the powerful gun lobby and enact his gun control package during this legislative session.

"We have public sentiment on our side," the governor said during a press conference in the State House. "The state police know I'm right, a majority of the legislature knows I'm right."

During the press conference, each speaker offered evidence of the destruction handguns cause.

Dr. Alex Haller Jr., of the Maryland Institute for Emergency Medical Services Systems, said that 1,540 victims of gunshot wounds went to Maryland hospitals last year. Thirty-five percent of those people were under the age of 19, he said.

Bishop John Ricard of the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Baltimore, spoke of the increasing violence in his neighborhood. "Every single night in East Baltimore, we have gunshots being fired," he said.

The news conference appeared designed to give the governor's gun control agenda a big push as two key committees are expected to vote on the issue sometime this week.

The toughest gun control measures -- licensing of handgun buyers and limiting purchases to one per person per month -- appear headed for defeat.

The governor focused on the remaining measures, which include banning 18 semiautomatic pistols and high capacity ammunition magazines. The bill also would add 40 so-called assault weapons to the Maryland's current seven-day waiting period for purchase.

The governor has been pushing a ban on assault weapons for the past four years. For the first time, it appears he may be able to get the measure to a full vote of the legislature.

In past years, a conservative Senate committee has routinely killed the measure. This legislative session, Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller Jr. has routed the measure to another, more liberal committee.

The weapons to be banned include the Tec-9, the number one firearm traced to crime in the nation from 1989 through 1991, according to the U.S. Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms. The semiautomatic pistols, some of which were arrayed on a table before the governor today, typically hold 30 bullets. Some are equipped to handle silencers.

Gun-rights advocates argue that the weapons fire no more rapidly than most pistols and that they are linked to only a small percentage of crimes. Assault weapons have gained notoriety nationally over the years because of their use in public mass murders.

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