Ruling OKs gun laws in Baltimore

September 02, 1995|By Dan Morse | Dan Morse,Sun Staff Writer

Maryland's top attorney has cleared the way for Baltimore to make its own gun control laws.

In an opinion released this week, Attorney General J. Joseph Curran Jr. said Maryland's "home-rule" provisions against local laws do not apply to Baltimore handguns.

"It paves the way for us to take the next step," said state Sen. John A. Pica Jr., a Baltimore Democrat who plans to submit handgun legislation in the next session of the General Assembly in January.

He envisions at least four parts to his legislation:

* If you are arrested for a crime while using a handgun, you will have a more difficult time posting bail.

* If you are convicted of a crime in which you use a handgun, you will spend extra time in prison. "The basic goal is to get these people off the streets," Mr. Pica said.

* If you buy a handgun, you must take safety training.

* If you own a handgun, you may be able to exchange it for items such as tennis shoes or household necessities. Under this part of the law, local businesses would receive tax breaks for offering such gun buybacks.

Mr. Pica said he will hold a series of public hearings before signing off on the legislation.

"The bill could be broader," he said.

He has received support for some of his ideas from the National Rifle Association and a local gun store owner.

Chip Walker, an NRA spokesman, said his organization always has supported long sentences for gun-carrying criminals.

Mel Abrams, owner of Valley Gun shop in Parkville, is on-board, sort of. He's skeptical about plea bargains.

"These criminals know our criminal justice system is just revolving doors," he said.

Mr. Pica said the legislation providing for more time in prison would prohibit plea bargains.

Mr. Walker and Mr. Abrams are opposed to mandatory firearms training for regular handgun ownership. Responsible gun owners seek their own training, while irresponsible owners will act irresponsibly despite any training, they said.

They also said the programs could inhibit the average citizen's ability to buy guns.

Both also questioned the value of buybacks, saying criminals do not participate. "The people who turn in the guns are the wrong people," Mr. Walker said.

But Mr. Pica said buyback programs are worth trying. "The problem in Baltimore is that people have lost confidence that the government has control of crime," he said.

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