Walter Baker's bull's-eye Handgun control: Senate chairman now backs efforts to stem flow of guns to criminals.

January 20, 1996

YEAR AFTER YEAR, handgun legislation in the General Assembly has run afoul of the Senate Judicial Proceedings Committee and its conservative chairman, Walter Baker of Cecil County. But last week, Mr. Baker shocked gun-control supporters and dumbfounded the gun lobby by embracing major elements of the governor's reform legislation. Prospects for meaningful changes in current handgun laws have brightened considerably.

As it now stands, criminals have no trouble obtaining all the handguns they want through legal means. Hundreds of guns can be bought at a gun shop by a third party without violating the law. And criminals can obtain all the weaponry they need through private sales, especially at gun shows. It's all legal.

Gov. Parris Glendening wants to close these two loopholes, and Mr. Baker agrees. They are going after the crooks, not the law-abiding citizen seeking a handgun for self-protection or for recreational purposes. Under the governor's plan, you could buy just one handgun a month. No more "straw purchases" large enough to arm a drug gang. Private sales would come under the same background-check and permit procedure as now applies to buying a handgun at a store.

These are sensible changes. Virginia imposed the one-gun-a-month limit last year and saw immediate success: Criminals started making large-scale purchases of handguns in Maryland instead. That situation has to be stopped, and Mr. Baker knows it.

We hope the Cecil County senator takes a closer look at other aspects of the governor's proposal, too. There's nothing wrong with requiring a firearms purchaser to obtain a license from the state, just like barbers and hunters and car drivers. You already need a criminal background check before buying a handgun in Maryland; the only additional requirement for a license would safety training. Not a bad idea before one handles a dangerous weapon.

Would Senator Baker favor a bill allowing anyone to drive a car without any training? Of course not. So why is it wrong to ask an applicant to take a certified gun-safety course?

Again, this is plain common sense. And over the years, Mr. Baker has displayed a common-sense approach to many kinds of legislation. The governor's plan not only would keep handguns away from criminals, but would cut down on safety-related accidents. That would be good for Maryland, and good for its citizens.

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