Bentley doesn't talk till she votes against gun ban

May 06, 1994|By Michael A. Fletcher | Michael A. Fletcher,Sun Staff Writer

WASHINGTON -- Rep. Helen Delich Bentley has established herself as a moving target on gun-control legislation.

In November, the Baltimore County Republican voted against the Brady bill to set a waiting period for handgun sales -- after saying she would vote for it. She explained her "no" vote as an error due to the House electronic voting system.

In 1988, she voted for a substitute amendment -- backed by the National Rifle Association -- that effectively killed the Brady legislation for that year, after saying she would support the bill.

And yesterday, as the vote to ban 19 types of assault weapons loomed on the House floor, Mrs. Bentley remained elusive, refusing to discloseher position -- until she cast her vote against the measure, which passed, 216-214.

"The bill is a smoke screen, a placebo, and a diversion away from the real goal of attacking and prosecuting criminals," said Mrs. Bentley, a candidate for the Republican nomination for governor.

Mrs. Bentley's vote against the ban on assault weapons angered Maryland gun-control advocates, who had been pressuring her to back the measure, citing polls showing that most Marylanders favor it.

"It's very disappointing," said Vincent DeMarco, executive director of Marylanders Against Handgun Abuse. "But this will be an issue in the governor's race, and we plan to let the public know how she voted."

Mrs. Bentley, whose Republican primary opponents include Del. Ellen R. Sauerbrey of Baltimore County, a staunch opponent of gun-control legislation, dismissed such threats, saying: "We're six months away from the general and four months from the primary."

Merrie Street, a press aide to Mrs. Bentley, said the congresswoman received "hundreds of phone calls" in the days before the vote.

In a statement explaining her vote, Mrs. Bentley cited letters she received from three people asking her to oppose the ban: an Anne Arundel County police sergeant; the sister of a woman who killed an attempted rapist with an assault pistol; and a woman who was shot with a semiautomatic pistol.

Mrs. Bentley, who refuses campaign contributions from the NRA, which fought the ban, was joined in voting against the measure by Rep. Roscoe G. Bartlett, a Republican from Western Maryland, who said it "will do nothing to fight crime."

House members from Maryland who voted for the bill were Reps. Kweisi Mfume of Baltimore, Steny H. Hoyer of Prince George's County, Albert R. Wynn of Prince George's County and Benjamin L. Cardin of Baltimore, all Democrats. Also voting for the ban were Reps. Constance A. Morella of Montgomery County and Wayne T. Gilchrest of the Eastern Shore, both Republicans.

"I'm very pleased," Mr. Cardin said. "It's a dramatic change from the way Congress voted three years ago on this issue."

In 1991, a similar measure was defeated 247-177.

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