Gun-control advocates support Glendening proposal Some lawmakers may fight plan

January 04, 1996|By Dan Morse | Dan Morse,SUN STAFF

For years, Maryland gun control advocates have counted on allies in Howard County.

Such was the case yesterday, when the Howard County Clergy for Social Justice and other activists held a news conference to support Gov. Parris N. Glendening's new gun control proposals.

"It's insane for us to go on this way without reducing the proliferation of guns," said Emma Byrne, 75, co-chair of the Howard County chapter of STAGE (Standing Together Against the Gun Epidemic).

But the political winds behind the activists may be changing. An informal poll of state lawmakers from the area showed an even split for and against Mr. Glendening's proposals.

"We have to punish the people using the guns, and I don't think [gun control] is doing that," said Del. James E. Malone Jr., a Democrat who represents part of the Elkridge area.

He has not decided whether to support Mr. Glendening's proposals. But his leanings against gun control were echoed by four local lawmakers interviewed yesterday.

"I'm through voting for them [gun control laws]," said Del. Robert H. Kittleman, a Republican who represents the western part of the county. "They don't work."

Said Mr. Kittleman, speaking as a Republican caucus leader, "The two issues that we leave alone are abortion and guns."

To be sure, gun control has strong support in Howard County -- a place where you cannot even find a store that sells handguns, according to gun dealers in other counties and local police.

Supporters of new gun control laws include state Sen. Martin G. Madden, a Republican who represents east Columbia and southeast Howard County; Del. Elizabeth Bobo, a Democrat who represents west Columbia; Del. Shane Pendergrass, a Democrat who represents east Columbia and southeast Howard County; and Del. Frank S. Turner, a Democrat who also represents east Columbia and southeast Howard County.

Howard County Police Chief James N. Robey also supports the governor's proposals, which would:

* Prohibit a person from buying more than one handgun a month.

* Treat handgun purchases between individuals the same as purchases from a gun dealer. Buyers would have to go through a criminal background check and wait seven days, as they do now for store purchases.

* Make it a state crime to buy a handgun for someone else, a so-called "straw purchase."

* Require a handgun purchaser to obtain a license and take a gun-safety course.

The proposals are expected to meet stiff resistance in the General Assembly and may be toned down, if passed at all.

Still, Mr. Madden, the Republican state senator, said the proposals are modest compared to crime in Maryland.

"We do licensing and training for many activities, and one of them is driving a car," he said.

At yesterday's news conference, gun control advocates noted that in Maryland, homicides involving guns rose from 200 in 1984 to an estimated 450 in 1995 -- while nongun homicides stayed constant at about 150 a year.

In Howard last year, there were four homicides -- two involving a gun.

"Gun violence is threatening our way of life," said Suzanne Waller of the Howard County STAGE chapter. She said Howard County has always been on the "forefront" of gun control efforts.

That's also the opinion of Vincent DeMarco, of Handgun Control Inc., an advocacy group in Washington. He warned all Howard County lawmakers about the voting power of Howard citizens. "You, legislators, need to listen," he said at the news conference.

Mr. Kittleman, a gun control opponent, said he is listening. "I think a lot of people feel the way I do," Mr. Kittleman said.

But those who share his opposition apparently have to go somewhere else to buy a gun.

"You can ride over to Anne Arundel County," said Bob McMurray, a Montgomery County resident and prominent opponent of gun control laws in Maryland.

"There's a nice one off Route 50."

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