Steinberg assails Bentley for voting against assault weapon ban CAMAPIGN '94 THE RACE FOR GOVERNOR pTC

May 07, 1994|By Rafael Alvarez | Rafael Alvarez,Sun Staff Writer

Democrat Melvin A. Steinberg blasted a potential gubernatorial opponent, Republican Helen Delich Bentley, yesterday for the Maryland congresswoman's vote against a national ban on assault weapons.

Mr. Steinberg, Maryland's lieutenant governor, said in a press release that Mrs. Bentley should be ashamed of herself "for being owned lock, stock and barrel by the gun lobby."

Sponsored by New York Democrat Charles E. Schumer, the bill would ban 19 types of assault-style weapons. Its passage on a 216-214 vote was seen as a significant defeat for the National Rifle Association.

Mrs. Bentley, who has generally opposed legislation to control firearms, was mum about her position until Thursday's vote was called on the House floor.

Afterward, she defended her decision saying, "The [assault-weapon] bill is a smoke screen, a placebo and a diversion away from the real goal of attacking and prosecuting criminals."

The Steinberg campaign didn't buy that. "Following a continuous pattern on the issue of gun control, Helen Bentley has said different things to different people for a long time, depending on what they want to hear," the Steinberg release said.

Gordon Hensley, a political consultant working on the Bentley campaign, said yesterday that Mr. Steinberg's charge was too ridiculous for direct comment from Mrs. Bentley.

"She's not going to be on the phone [to address] a partisan political attack. I told her about it and she laughed," said Mr. Hensley. "Mrs. Bentley could have done the easy thing and switched her vote, but she didn't because she has backbone. She said it's indicative that the Democrats are threatened by her strength."

Mr. Hensley then referred to a poll this year that showed her leading Mr. Steinberg, Prince George's County Executive Parris N. Glendening and other Democratic candidates for governor when matched in a mock general election.

He also said Mrs. Bentley has not accepted campaign funds from the National Rifle Association since 1988, the year she voted for a substitute amendment -- backed by the NRA -- that effectively killed legislation that would have set a waiting period for handgun sales.

Asked yesterday why Mrs. Bentley believed assault weapons had a place on the open market, Mr. Hensley said, "Mrs. Bentley believes that the nature of the [Schumer] bill is an infringement on the rights of legitimate sportsmen. She believes the real effort ought to be made against violent felons that use weapons. She's well aware that people disagree with her, but she's the kind of candidate that can take the heat."

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