Assault pistol curbs backed by Md. Senate

March 18, 1994|By Frank Langfitt | Frank Langfitt,Sun Staff Writer

In a break with its past, the Maryland Senate gave preliminary approval yesterday to a bill that would ban the sale of 18 types of assault pistols. The action came after gun control proponents fought back an amendment that could have killed the legislation.

The Senate's decision marked a breakthrough for Gov. William Donald Schaefer and gun control proponents across Maryland, who have fought to bring some kind of assault weapons ban to a full vote of the Senate since 1991.

"This has been a long time coming," the governor said through his press secretary, Page W. Boinest. "I've been fighting this battle for four years."

Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller Jr., a Prince George's Democrat, said, "I think it's a breakthrough for the people of the state of Maryland, particularly the urban areas."

Gun rights advocates conceded defeat in the Senate yesterday but said they would continue to try to kill the bill when it moves to the House of Delegates.

"We've not stopped fighting," said Robert A. McMurray, a spokesman for the Maryland State Rifle & Pistol Association.

A final Senate vote is scheduled for Tuesday. The measure then is expected to go to the House Judiciary Committee, where its future is uncertain.

The bill -- which the Senate approved by voice vote -- would ban the sale or transfer in Maryland of the 18 types of semiautomatic pistols beginning June 1.

The bill also would ban the sale, but not possession, of high-capacity ammunition magazines that carry more than 20 bullets. And it would add 21 types of assault-style weapons to a list of firearms requiring a seven-day waiting period and a background check before purchase.

The measure falls short of the more sweeping gun control proposals in the legislature this year, which would require licensing of handgun buyers and limit purchases of handguns to one per person per month. They are not expected to pass.

Much of yesterday's drama surrounded a strategy by Sen. Walter M. Baker to sink the assault pistol ban with amendments that would be tough on crime but ultimately controversial enough to send the whole bill down to defeat.

It almost worked.

Mr. Baker, a Cecil County Democrat, proposed an amendment to make a conviction for a violent crime involving with a handgun punishable by a mandatory sentence of life in prison without parole.

Sen. Clarence W. Blount, a Baltimore Democrat, warned legislators that such a law would be impractical, since it would require hundreds of millions of dollars for prison space that the state could ill afford.

But in an election year when crime is perhaps the top issue in the General Assembly, the Senate passed the amendment 24-23. Proponents agreed then that the bill appeared crippled.

John A. Pica Jr., a Baltimore Democrat who sponsored the bill, said the House might have removed the amendment but that the Senate then would have been forced to reconsider the bill late in the session, when a filibuster could have killed it.

Mr. Miller, Mr. Pica and others quickly worked the Senate floor in an effort to persuade legislators to change their votes.

They eventually persuaded two Baltimore senators, Julian L. Lapides and George W. Della Jr., to vote against the amendment, which died by a vote of 25-22.

Both senators said afterward that they had initially voted for the amendment because they wanted the gun bill to be tough on criminals but changed their minds after learning later that it was a sweeping measure that would cover crimes such as housebreaking.

The vote cast by another Baltimore senator also drew attention. Democrat American Joe Miedusiewski, who voted against the assault weapons ban when it was considered by a Senate committee, voted against the "killer" amendment.

Mr. Miedusiewski, a candidate for governor, said he did not know how he would cast his final vote on the bill next week.

He said he is still studying the bill and its potential impact statewide.

PROPOSED ASSAULT PISTOL BAN

The state Senate gave preliminary approval yesterday to a bill that would, starting June 1, ban the sale or other transfer in Maryland of 18 models of semiautomatic pistols. The 18 are sometimes called "assault" pistols because of their military appearance and capacity to hold large amounts of ammunition. Scores of other models of semiautomatic pistols would not be affected by the ban.

In all semiautomatics, the ammunition is contained in a magazine, or "clip," which usually fits into the handle. They are similar to revolvers in that one pull of the trigger fires one shot. But, depending on the design, it often is possible to fire more rounds, and fire them faster, from a semiautomatic than from a revolver.

Semiautomatics are not as fast as automatics, machine-gun style weapons that can fire a rapid succession of bullets with a single pull of the trigger. Fully automatic weapons are strictly regulated and may be purchased only with special state and federal licenses.

One of the most popular assault pistol models is the TEC-9, shown at left. It holds up to 32 9-mm bullets, is about a foot long and weighs about 3 pounds. It costs about $350, depending on features.

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