Gun control advocates rally to revive crime bill

August 14, 1994|By Larry Carson | Larry Carson,Sun Staff Writer

The suspected drug dealer that Baltimore police chased into the rear of a Durham Street rowhouse three years ago was crouching, 32-shot Tech-9 assault weapon at the ready, when Officer Gerald M. Hensley came up behind him.

Officer Hensley's shout caused the man to spin, his gun leveled. The policeman fired two quick shots, killing him.

On another drug raid in East Baltimore, the officer said he found a loaded Tech-9, safety off, in a rowhouse room with two boys, ages 2 and 4.

The threat that heavily armed drug dealers pose to Baltimore's children and police officers prompted the 13-year police veteran to appear in front of Baltimore police headquarters on Fayette Street yesterday with a group of gun control advocates.

They were led by Vincent DeMarco, executive director of Marylanders Against Handgun Abuse, and accompanied by Baltimore's sheriff, John W. Anderson, and several police officers representing Baltimore and Anne Arundel county forces and the Maryland Chiefs of Police Association.

The news conference was part of a nationwide effort to pressure members of Congress who voted to defeat President Bill Clinton's $30 billion crime bill Thursday. Maryland Attorney General J. Joseph Curran Jr. traveled to Washington yesterday to meet with U.S. Attorney General Janet Reno and Clinton Chief of Staff Leon Panetta on the same subject.

"I saw unified police support for the bill," Mr. Curran said after the 90-minute meeting. "We want to make sure the public understands that this is a law enforcement bill," he said, adding that a large delegation of Maryland police and prosecutorial officials attended.

Three Maryland Republican House members -- Helen D. Bentley, 2nd District; Wayne T. Gilchrist, 1st District; and Roscoe G. Bartlett, 6th District -- voted not to consider the crime bill.

Mr. DeMarco repeatedly urged Marylanders to call these three members, especially Mrs. Bentley, who is running for governor. The aim is to use public pressure to change votes in any reconsideration.

"Pass the crime bill with the assault gun ban in it," Mr. DeMarco urged. "We call on the people of Maryland. "We must do it now.

"Assault guns can kill 30 or 40 or 100 people in seconds," he said, calling the congressional vote Thursday "outrageous."

Anne Arundel County Deputy Police Chief Edward Koch, representing the Maryland Chiefs of Police Association, said the crime bill has money not only for new street patrolmen, crime prevention and prisons, but for sophisticated new equipment that is badly needed by Anne Arundel police.

Julie A. Elseroad, president of the Montgomery County-based group "Enough is Enough," said she called Mrs. Bentley's Towson office to urge her to change her vote, but was given "the typical NRA [National Rifle Association] line" by a worker she said refused to record her name or phone number.

"There is no place in Maryland, or Annapolis, for a leader who listens to one small faction," Ms. Elseroad said.

Gordon Hensley, a spokesman for the Bentley gubernatorial campaign, said her vote against the crime bill is being misrepresented. The Clinton bill was more a "social welfare bill" than an anti-crime measure, he said. It's passage would result in the "hiring of more social workers than police officers," and said the current wave of news conferences are merely a "smoke screen to divert attention from the failures of the bill."

Mrs. Bentley did vote specifically against the assault gun ban in May, after a long period of apparent indecision. At that time, she said, "The assault weapon ban is a smoke screen, a placebo and a diversion away from the real goal of attacking and prosecuting criminals."

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