Gun-control lobby stakes claim in Glendening win

November 27, 1994|By ROGER SIMON

While the pro-gun lobby was able to claim victory in several statewide races in the recent election, one spectacular area of failure was Maryland.

Here, Gov.-elect Parris Glendening, who endorsed a sweeping gun-control bill, narrowly defeated Ellen Sauerbrey, who opposed it.

And Marylanders Against Handgun Abuse (MAHA), which has been working toward this day for a while now, was quick to claim at least partial credit.

"We planned a couple of years ago to make sure that gun control was the key issue in the 1994 election," said Vinny DeMarco, MAHA's executive director, "and nothing was more important to us than the governor's race. So we sent a questionnaire to every gubernatorial candidate [in the primary] asking them if they supported our bill."

The comprehensive gun-control bill would:

1. Require the licensing of handgun and handgun ammunition purchasers.

2. Make anyone who illegally transfers a handgun to another person civilly liable for any damage caused by that handgun.

3. Deny handguns to spouse abusers and those have committed violent misdemeanors.

4. Ban the sale of assault rifles.

5. Ban the sale of gun magazines that hold more than 10 bullets.

6. Limit the number of handgun purchases per month or per year.

MAHA's next step was to mail to each of its 150-member grass-roots coalition a list of who, among those running for governor, attorney general and the General Assembly, was supporting comprehensive gun-control legislation.

"The Central Maryland Ecumenical Council, for instance, which is made up of 2,000 clergy from around Maryland, then sent the list to each of its members," DeMarco said.

MAHA did not endorse any candidates. It merely told voters who was for gun control and who was not.

But after the primary, it was no secret who MAHA wanted in the governor's chair.

"Sauerbrey not only opposed our plan, but had voted against every gun-control measure in the General Assembly, had led the floor fight against the assault weapons ban and had opposed the bill keeping guns away from children," DeMarco said. "The contrast between the two candidates on the issue of gun control could not have been more stark."

And the anti-gun lobby worked hard for the election of Glendening.

Former White House press secre- tary Jim Brady and his wife, Sarah, the nation's two most prominent figures in the gun-control movement, came to Maryland a few days after the primary to endorse Glendening and urge the election of other gun-control candidates.

"We also had various press conferences with law enforcement leaders, and the mothers of victims of gun violence staged a vigil in front of Sauerbrey's office for three weeks urging her to renounce the National Rifle Association," DeMarco said.

DeMarco believes that while in other states gun control was submerged by other issues, "in Maryland we made sure that it was front and center."

MAHA sent out tens of thousands of glossy mailers featuring the picture of a terrifying assault pistol on the front and a list inside of which candidates supported the licensing of handgun buyers and which opposed.

And, along with many others, MAHA held its breath in the days after the general election to see if Glendening had actually won.

Now that he has, DeMarco believes Glendening's support of gun control was critical to his victory.

"We believe a key to Parris Glendening's victory was his courage and public stance for gun control and our work to get that message out, especially comparing it to Ellen Sauerbrey's anti-gun-control stance," DeMarco said.

This does not mean Maryland is guaranteed a comprehensive gun-control bill, but DeMarco is hopeful.

"I am cautiously optimistic," DeMarco said. "The gun lobby will not lay down; it will spend thousands to try to intimidate the legislature, but I believe a comprehensive gun-control bill will be passed in 1995."

To ensure that the pressure stays on, a gun-control rally will be held in Annapolis in front of the State House on Jan. 16, the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.'s birthday

"The purpose," DeMarco said, "will be to show the majority of the legislators who favor a comprehensive gun-control bill that the people of Maryland are behind them."

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