Saying he wants to "reduce the obscene level of gun violence" in Maryland, Gov. Parris N. Glendening named yesterday a 17-member commission to develop a plan to do that.
Moving to make good on a key campaign promise, Mr. Glendening named as co-chairman of the commission Vincent DeMarco, a paid lobbyist for Handgun Control Inc. and former head of Marylanders Against Handgun Abuse (MAHA), the state's largest gun control advocacy group.
He then stacked the panel -- the Governor's Commission on Gun Violence -- with members who would be likely to recommend stronger gun control laws, including clergymen, the mother of a gunshot victim, a pediatrician, a campus security chief, a teacher, a prosecutor and the head of the state police union.
"That's about what I would expect from a governor like Glendening," groused gun rights activist and lobbyist Bob McMurray. "A totally one-sided commission with no representatives from the shooting sports groups, no [National Rifle Association] representation, no [Maryland State Rifle and Pistol Association] membership, no one from the [firearms] dealers' association," he said.
"It is obviously a stacked deck," said Sanford Abrams, vice president of the Maryland Licensed Firearms Dealers Association. "They might as well not meet. We know exactly what they want to do."
In addition to recommending by Nov. 1 new measures to control gun violence, the commission will look at gun trafficking and review laws to see which ones work, Mr. Glendening said.
Gun control had been a cornerstone of Mr. Glendening's campaign for governor, but a month after his election he stunned supporters by announcing that he would not push for such measures until 1996.
Yesterday, standing against the backdrop of a huge American flag outside state police headquarters in Pikesville, the governor summoned up images of the recent bombing in Oklahoma City, the shooting death this week of Prince George's County Police Officer John J. Novabilski, the shooting of infants and senior citizens caught in the cross-fire of gun battles, and the murder five years ago of state police Cpl. Theodore D. Wolf.
Mr. Glendening briefly interrupted his news conference to present Trooper Wolf's badge to his widow, Ginny, as a gesture of honor and respect to all victims of gun violence.
Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller Jr., a Prince George's County Democrat, said that Maryland already has some of the toughest gun control laws in the nation. He said that he is not sure the legislature has any appetite to go further.
Mr. Miller added that the commission membership did not appear to reflect the views of more conservative regions of the state. "It would appear the commission is slanted toward people who are anti-gun in the extreme, and therefore I don't know if their findings are going to be perceived as totally objective by the Maryland General Assembly," he said.
The governor defended the appointees as citizens "who understand the seriousness of gun violence in our society." He also repeated his support for a comprehensive gun control program pushed by MAHA that would include licensing of all handgun owners, limits on gun sales, and restrictions on the capacity of gun magazines.
"I support that package, but this commission has an open end to look at a range of solutions and different proposals," Mr. Glendening said. "I'm not going to comment during the work of the commission on specific alternatives or proposals, because that prejudges their decision and obviously almost defines the parameters for them."
But Mr. DeMarco said the governor's support of MAHA's program "will certainly be a factor in our deliberations."
Mr. McMurray, who chairs the Maryland Committee Against the Gun Ban, said he would be surprised if the commission recommended anything less than the MAHA proposal.
Named with Mr. DeMarco as co-chairs of the commission were Marna McClendon, the Howard County state's attorney; and Daryl Jones, a former Prince George's County policeman and now president of the Maryland Fraternal Order of Police.
Also appointed were Rabbi Gary Fink of Oseh Shalom Synagogue in Montgomery County; the Rev. John Wright of the First Baptist Church of Guilford, president of the Statewide Baptist Ministers Conference; Sheriff Ray Kight of Montgomery County; Chief John Collins, chief of police for the University of Maryland Baltimore campus; Dr. Modena Wilson, a pediatrician at the Johns Hopkins University; Barbara Willis, the Anne Arundel County mother of Charles H. Willis, who was shot to death on August 25, 1993, after an argument over a ballpoint pen.
Others included Ray Schoenke, a former Washington Redskin who owns a Montgomery County insurance agency and a major Eastern Shore duck hunting farm; Jack Patterson, a Frederick County teacher; and Tracy Brown from the criminal justice office of the mayor of Baltimore.
Five other members are yet to be named, including designees from the House of Delegates and state Senate, the nursing community, a charitable organization, and the children and youth advocacy community.