Time to limit handgun sales Public support: Maryland eclipses Virginia as gun-running capital of D.C. region.

February 09, 1996

YOU KNOW IT'S TIME to tighten Maryland's handgun laws when new federal statistics show this state is now the gun-running capital of the Washington region. Criminals can buy all the guns they need in Maryland -- legally.

It used to be that Virginia was the place to go if you wanted to buy dozens of handguns at a time. But in 1993, Virginia curbed "straw purchases" of guns by individuals with clean criminal records who were fronting for drug gangs and others. There is now a one-gun-a-month purchase limit in Virginia.

This approach has worked. The number of Virginia guns used in violent crimes in D.C., Pennsylvania, Delaware and New York has dropped 65 percent. For the first time, Maryland -- not Virginia -- is the largest supplier of handguns used in crimes in the District of Columbia. Clearly, the place to go if you want to equip a small army with weapons is Maryland.

That's got to change. Gov. Parris N. Glendening wants Maryland join Virginia and South Carolina in limiting handgun purchases to one a month. That should satisfy everyone's self-defense and sport-shooting needs, but effectively close the door on straw purchases.

The move has strong public support. Two recent polls showed the one-a-month plan was heavily favored. Even more encouraging was 70-24 percent support in one poll for a provision requiring individuals to get licenses and training before buying a gun.

Unfortunately, there is still doubt that the Senate Judicial Proceedings Committee understands the public's concern. For instance, Sen. Walter M. Baker, who chairs the panel, doesn't approve of the licensing proposal. Yet what is wrong with forcing someone to apply for a license, undergo a background check and get some training before owning a highly dangerous weapon? It is plain common sense.

When the vote is taken, members of the Senate committee should recognize the practical benefits of the governor's package. Yes, we must stop the gun-running, but we must also be sure that those who buy guns know how to use them and don't have dangerous pasts.

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