Surprise amendment threatens arms bill

March 31, 1994|By Frank Langfitt | Frank Langfitt,Sun Staff Writer

After spending the past two weeks fighting off attempts to kill a proposed ban on the sale of assault pistols, gun control supporters in the Maryland legislature faced an unusual threat yesterday from one of their own.

In a move that could have sunk the bill, Del. Peter Franchot, D-Montgomery, tried to amend it on the floor of the House of Delegates to include a ban on the possession and sale of all handguns.

Gun control supporters easily beat back the amendment and later gave the bill preliminary approval on voice votes. The House is expected to take a final vote on the bill today.

Opponents, however, plan to try to amend the bill one last time today with tough-on-crime provisions. The Senate has already approved the bill, but any changes would send the measure back there for a final vote. Many predict it would then die in a late-session filibuster.

If the measure passes unamended, though, it will have completed its journey through the legislature. It would then go to the governor, who has said he will sign it into law.

The bill would ban the sale or transfer of 18 types of semiautomatic pistols. The handguns are sometimes called assault weapons because of their military look and their ability to hold 30 rounds of ammunition or more.

Gun control advocates say the weapons are designed for mass murder and have no legitimate hunting or sporting purpose. Opponents point out that the pistols are linked to only a small percentage of crime and say the bill will do nothing to make Maryland safer.

Delegate Franchot's proposed handgun ban is the most radical gun control bill of the session. He said he offered it on the floor yesterday to try to expand what he sees as a stale gun control debate that occurs annually in the General Assembly.

The legislature, Mr. Franchot says, needs to look beyond criminals and adopt a much broader strategy to solve the problem of gun violence. The delegate pointed out that less than 25 percent of the handgun murders nationally in 1992 occurred during the commission of a felony like rape and robbery. Most resulted from brawls, arguments or romantic triangles where a gun was available.

"Criminal activity is only part of the problem," said Mr. Franchot. "We should begin to think about gun control not as a criminal justice issue, but as a public health issue."

But Mr. Franchot's move clearly angered supporters of the assault pistol bill, who have labored to steer it through the House of Delegates.

"Do you want the bill killed?" asked Del. Richard Rynd, a Baltimore County Democrat. "Wouldn't you rather have something than nothing?"

Mr. Franchot said he did not want to sink the measure and, after the vote, admitted that trying to amend it was a risky move. He has supported the bill in the past and said he plans to vote for it today.

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