Three candidates for governor vow gun control push CAMPAIGN 1994 -- THE RACE FOR GOVERNOR

June 02, 1994|By John W. Frece | John W. Frece,Sun Staff Writer

Three Democratic candidates for governor pledged yesterday to push for tough gun control laws that would require all Maryland handgun owners to be licensed and limit the number of handguns an individual could buy each year.

The three -- Lt. Gov. Melvin A. Steinberg of Baltimore County, Prince George's County Executive Parris N. Glendening and state Sen. Mary H. Boergers of Montgomery County -- also promised to expand the list of people who would be barred from buying or possessing handguns under any circumstances and to support a ban on assault rifles and magazines capable of holding more than 10 bullets.

Their support for the ambitious gun control plan proposed by the nonprofit group Marylanders Against Handgun Abuse (MAHA) sets them apart from the other leading Democrat in the field, state Sen. American Joe Miedusiewski of Baltimore, and from the three Republican candidates for governor, 2nd District U.S. Rep. Helen Delich Bentley, Maryland House Minority Leader Ellen R. Sauerbrey of Baltimore County and retired foreign service officer William S. Shepard of Montgomery County.

Those four candidates said they, too, are worried about violent crime but prefer tougher sentencing as a response. Gun control, they said, tends to penalize law-abiding citizens more than it does criminals.

At a news conference sponsored by MAHA yesterday at Bethel A.M.E. Church on Druid Hill Avenue in West Baltimore, Mr. Glendening and Mr. Steinberg said public sentiment for gun control is growing. That, combined with an expected large turnover in the General Assembly next year, should provide an opportunity to enact meaningful gun control laws, they said.

The news conference was held on the same day Maryland's ban on 18 types of assault pistols went into effect. Those guns have been linked to only a small percentage of crimes.

Despite the backing of Gov. William Donald Schaefer, the General Assembly killed this year stronger proposals pushed by MAHA that would have licensed handgun owners and limited handgun purchases to one per month per person. Backers say such restrictions are necessary to reduce the number of guns on the streets and their easy availability to criminals.

Mr. Steinberg said he was particularly interested in closing a loophole that permits handguns to be purchased by individuals fronting for felons or others who could not make it past a required background check.

Mr. Glendening and Mr. Steinberg conceded that gun control by itself will not stop violent crime, but they called it an important element of broader anti-crime efforts.

Ms. Boergers, who, like the other two Democrats, signed a form pledging her support of the MAHA comprehensive plan, did not attend the news conference because of a conflicting campaign event.

Mr. Glendening used the occasion to make a partisan attack, going after Mrs. Bentley by name. He said that if they both survive the Sept. 13 party primaries, he will demand that she explain why she voted against a ban on assault weapons in Congress last month. Anyone who would oppose such a ban, Mr. Glendening said, is "soft on crime."

Mrs. Bentley said at the time that she voted against the ban because it was nothing more than "a smoke screen, a placebo and a diversion away from the real goal of attacking and prosecuting criminals."

Gordon Hensley, her campaign consultant, said yesterday that no one in the race has a tougher anti-crime record than Mrs. Bentley. He said Mr. Glendening's attack was an attempt to distract attention from Prince George's County, which he described as the most violent area in the Washington suburbs.

During this year's legislative session, Mr. Miedusiewski and Mrs. Sauerbrey voted against the state ban on assault pistols. But fighting crime has been a top campaign issue for both of them.

After convicted murderer John Frederick Thanos was executed recently, for instance, Mr. Miedusiewski, a Baltimore tavern owner who has spent nearly two decades in the General Assembly, said his only regret was that he had not administered the lethal injection himself.

But he says gun control is not the answer. He argues that there are enough laws on the books and that the problem is they are not enforced or are plea-bargained away by prosecutors. As governor, he says, he would oppose parole for repeat violent offenders and take other steps to assure that sentences are served.

Mrs. Sauerbrey agreed, saying, "The laws in Maryland are

absolutely a joke, because nothing happens to people who use the guns anyway."

She said she has tried unsuccessfully to persuade the General Assembly to enact laws that would make it harder for people convicted of crimes involving guns to be paroled, or to prohibit juveniles convicted of violent crimes from later being allowed to buy guns.

She also argues that if Maryland's existing law requiring a mandatory five-year sentence for the use of a handgun in commission of a crime were regularly applied instead of being plea-bargained away in most instances, criminals might take notice.

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