Senate approves ban on 18 types of assault pistols

March 23, 1994|By Frank Langfitt | Frank Langfitt,Sun Staff Writer

The Maryland Senate easily approved a bill yesterday that would ban the sale of most assault pistols, ending years of frustration for gun control advocates who have seen such measures die in committee. The final vote was 29 to 18.

The battle, however, is far from over. The bill now heads to the House of Delegates Judiciary Committee, where legislators are expected to begin discussion as early as tomorrow.

Proponents claim enough support in the House committee for passage, but the chairman says the vote could go either way. It's "too close to call," said Judiciary Chairman Joseph F. Vallario Jr., a Prince George's Democrat.

House Speaker Casper R. Taylor Jr. said he supports a ban on assault weapons, but does not plan to lobby the panel.

"I'm going to wait and see what my house committee does on the bill," said Delegate Taylor, an Allegany County Democrat.

The bill would ban the sale or transfer of 18 types of semiautomatic pistols. The 18 are sometimes called assault pistols because of their military look and their ability to hold up to 30 rounds of ammunition. Scores of other types of semiautomatic pistols would not be banned.

Debate in the House committee is expected to focus on a section that would require people who currently own assault pistols to register them with state police by Aug. 1. Since 1966, Maryland has required registration of all handguns -- including assault pistols -- purchased from gun dealers.

However, state police estimate gun owners have obtained roughly 600 to 800 assault pistols through other means, including private sales, and do not have the weapons registered in their names.

People caught with unregistered assault pistols after Aug. 1 could be punished by up to three years in prison and a $5,000 fine. Gun rights advocates see this provision as an invasion of privacy that turns honest citizens into criminals.

Yesterday's vote followed a debate on the Senate floor in which opponents invoked the threat of fascism and at least one supporter conceded that the bill might not do much to make Maryland safer.

"This is not going to reduce crime," said Sen. Clarence W. Blount, a Baltimore Democrat who voted for the bill. Mr. Blount said he saw the measure as a step in the right direction.

Sen. John A. Cade, an Anne Arundel Republican, said banning these weapons -- which are linked to a very small but growing percentage of crime -- was a police state tactic. Outside the State House yesterday, a gun rights proponent held a sign that read: "No more Nazi gun laws."

Some senators, however, had clearly tired of comparisons to Adolf Hitler, who required gun registration as a way to control citizens' access to firearms.

"If you want to see what the Nazis were about, see 'Schindler's List,' " said Sen. Howard A. Denis, a Montgomery Republican, referring to the Academy Award-winning film on the Holocaust.

Baltimore Sen. American Joe Miedusiewski was among those voting against the bill, calling it "fluff." Senator Miedusiewski, a Democratic candidate for governor, had helped keep the bill alive last week by voting against amendments designed to kill it.

After yesterday's vote, two gun rights advocates unfurled a pair of American flags from the Senate balcony. Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller Jr. ordered the two men removed.

State Police Superintendent Larry Tolliver hustled one of them out by the arm with the help of another police officer.

Robert A. McMurray, a spokesman for the Maryland State Rifle & Pistol Association, later said the two were not charged.

In addition to banning the sale of the assault pistols, the bill would prohibit the purchase, but not possession, of high-capacity ammunition magazines that hold more than 20 rounds. It would also add 21 other types of assault-style weapons to a list of firearms requiring a seven-day waiting period and a background check before purchase.

The bill, however, falls short of the more sweeping gun control proposals in the legislature this year, which are not expected to pass. Those measures would license handgun buyers and limit purchases of handguns to one per person per month.

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