Panel expected to OK ban on assault weapons

March 09, 1994|By Frank Langfitt | Frank Langfitt,Sun Staff Writer

A key legislative committee is expected to vote on a bill today that could give the Maryland Senate its first genuine opportunity to vote on a ban of some so-called assault weapons.

Legislative leaders have predicted the Senate Economic and Environmental Affairs Committee will vote 6-5 to pass the measure, which would ban 18 types of semiautomatic pistols.

A vote had been planned for last night, but committee members asked for a postponement around 8:40 p.m. to have questions answered about how the ban would work.

Gov. William Donald Schaefer has spent the past four years trying to get an assault weapons ban bill to a full vote of the General Assembly. A conservative Senate panel -- the Judicial Proceedings Committee -- has routinely killed such measures in the past.

The reason the issue has a chance of making it to the Senate floor this year is because Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller Jr. has rerouted the gun control measure to the Economic and Environmental Affairs Committee, which is more liberal.

Economic and Environmental Affairs Committee member Sen. American Joe Miedusiewski attacked the move yesterday as a perversion of the General Assembly's more than 200-year-old committee system.

"Personally, I've very offended," the Baltimore Democrat and gubernatorial candidate said. The bill "is a ruse, it's pure baloney, it's a sham."

Senator Miedusiewski moved to refer the bill to the Judicial Proceedings Committee, but the motion was defeated 7-4.

In recent days, the assault weapons ban has moved into the spotlight in Annapolis as the toughest parts of the governor's gun control agenda appear headed for defeat under pressure from the gun lobby. Those measures include licensing handgun buyers, regulating private sales and limiting purchases to one handgun per person per month.

Anticipating the committee vote, the governor called a news conference yesterday to promote his gun control package. Flanked by a physician, a Roman Catholic bishop and the superintendent of the state police, the governor urged legislators to defy the powerful gun lobby and enact several measures.

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

During the news conference, each person spoke of growing handgun violence in Maryland.

Dr. Alex Haller Jr., of the Maryland Institute for Emergency Medical Services, 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 Archdiocese of Baltimore spoke of hearing gunshots every night in his East Baltimore neighborhood.

Col. Larry W. Tolliver, state police superintendent, pulled a mini Uzi from beneath his suit jacket and told the audience of about 40 that he had brought it into the State House without anyone noticing.

After speaking for about 15 seconds, Colonel Tolliver added that during the "little, short talk I just had, I could have killed over half the people in this room."

In addition to the Uzi, the governor hopes to ban the Tec-9, the No. 1 firearm traced to crime in the nation from 1989 through 1991, according to the U.S. Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms.

Both weapons were among a group displayed on a table before the speakers yesterday. A similar news conference backfired last year when the governor pointed an unloaded semiautomatic weapon at an Associated Press reporter.

This time, Governor Schaefer kept his hands tucked behind his chair for much of the program.

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