State Senate candidate Edward J. Kasemeyer, joined by the parents of a college student who was shot to death at a Severna Park doughnut shop last August, said yesterday that society is "indirectly encouraging violence by the lack of control and regulation of handguns."
Mr. Kasemeyer sought to distinguish himself from other candidates in newly redrawn District 12 -- which stretches from largely liberal Columbia to more conservative, southwestern Baltimore County -- by announcing his support for pTC comprehensive gun-control legislation at a news conference at the Wilde Lake Interfaith Center in Columbia.
"The difference in this election is very clear," said Mr. Kasemeyer, a Democratic former state senator who was defeated in 1990. "It's sort of a referendum to determine the feelings of people on gun control and to curtail the violence in our society."
Also attending were several advocates from Marylanders Against Handgun Abuse, including board members Richard and Barbara Willis, whose 21-year-old son, Charles, was shot at a Dunkin' Donuts after refusing to sell his pen to a stranger.
"Charlie was killed by a troubled young man who used a handgun as an outlet for his anger," Mr. Willis said. "Violence in society and easy access to handguns put together is death."
The gun-control lobbying group does not endorse candidates but does recognize those who support its goals. They include licensing licensing for handgun transfers, background checks and safety examinations for gun purchasers, a prohibition on purchase or possession of handguns by minors and certain violent criminals, an expanded list of banned "assault" weapons, and a restriction on the number of handguns any individual can buy in one year.
Mr. Kasemeyer is the only one of six District 12 Senate candidates that the gun-control organization recognizes as supporting its program.
The other District 12 candidates said they generally oppose gun-control legislation, arguing that the state must become tougher on criminals and that gun owners must assume responsibility for their actions. Republican candidate Christopher Eric Bouchat of Elkridge accused Mr. Kasemeyer of political grandstanding.
"He's just looking for headlines," said Mr. Bouchat, a National Rifle Association member. "He's trying to appeal to Columbia voters. That's his only hope."
Gun control doesn't play well in the Baltimore County portion of the district, said Democratic candidate Frances Kathleen Ingram Relay.
"In the Columbia area, they're 1,000 percent for gun control. But in Elkridge, Arbutus, Catonsville, Baltimore Highlands, Lansdowne, you better not mention gun control. They're definitely 100 percent against it," she said.
Mr. Kasemeyer, who abandoned a gubernatorial election bid in May, criticized District 12 incumbent Democrat Nancy L. Murphy of Catonsville for voting against a successful bill this year that bans the sale and transfer of 18 semiautomatic pistols.
"That's contrary to the wishes of the district," Mr. Kasemeyer said. "People are disgusted by the level of violence that exists."
Ms. Murphy said regulation of guns must come from the federal level, rather than state by state, if it is to have any effect. She emphasized her record as a sponsor of legislation enacting stiffer penalties for criminals, such as this year's Omnibus Crime Bill. "I don't believe gun control is the answer. Crime control is," she said. "Gun control is not a panacea. It controls law-abiding citizens. Hoodlums still get guns."
While acknowledging that handgun control will not eliminate violent crime, Mr. Kasemeyer said the state must address the availability and accessibility of handguns to help curtail it.
Democratic candidate Thomas Booth of Catonsville agreed with Ms. Murphy that criminals seldom are affected by gun-control laws. "I just can't see where government can continually take away our rights," he said. "We've got to be responsible for our own actions and we've got to be sterner with the criminal element."
Republican David Maier of Elkridge said he'd support gun-control legislation aimed at "personal responsibility and 0` accountability," such as requiring gun-safety classes and holding gun owners responsible when others misuse their weapons. But he said government can't expect to control the flow of munitions because of the "underground market."
The Willises say an effort must be made so that other families might avoid the suffering they've experienced.
"We need change now," Mr. Willis said. "We need those who favor unregulated, uncontrolled handguns to go find another job."