1,000 rally against bill to control handguns Penalize criminals instead, they say

February 20, 1996|By FRANK LANGFITT | FRANK LANGFITT,SUN STAFF

About 1,000 gun rights advocates rallied in front of the State House yesterday to oppose Gov. Parris N. Glendening's gun control bill and demand the right to carry concealed firearms. Traveling from as far as Garrett C they can buy.

"Government socialism gave fertile soil to this wild seed of violence," Carroll County Republican Sen. Timothy R. Ferguson told the cheering crowd. "It is not altogether unfitting that the same philosophy which left the family defenseless through welfare should do the same now through gun control."

Mr. Glendening is pushing a bill in the General Assembly this year that, if enacted, would give Maryland some of the toughest gun laws in the nation.

The measure would limit handgun purchases from stores to one per person per month and require criminal background checks and fingerprinting of those who buy handguns privately. The governor also wants to license handgun buyers and make them pass firearm safety courses.

Gun rights groups oppose the bill, especially the licensing provision, which some see as a precursor to an eventual gun ban.

"It's just like smoking," said Robert Dodge, a former Baltimore City police officer from Linthicum. First, smoking was not allowed in bathrooms, he said. Later, it was banned on airplane flights of two hours or less.

"Next thing you know, there's no smoking anywhere," said Mr. Dodge, a 60-year-old insurance investigator, who said he took a vacation day from work to attend the afternoon gathering.

Yesterday's rally in Annapolis was one of the largest involving the gun issue in recent memory. Both the state Department of General Services police and rally organizers estimated the crowd at about 1,000. The demonstration had the flavor of an Independence Day celebration. People waved flags. Legislators quoted Thomas Jefferson, and the crowd sang "God Bless America."

Signs blanketed the crowd.

"Gun control, it worked for Hitler and Castro," read one.

"My mom has the right to protect me," read another held by a little girl in a pink jacket and matching pink cap.

The gathering was almost entirely white, with many participants coming from rural areas. Previous gun control rallies in Annapolis, on the other hand, have had more of a mixture of whites and blacks, often from urban areas where violent crime is high.

S. M. Abrams, who has been involved in the gun rights movement for the past 15 years, attributed yesterday's turnout to the sweeping nature of the governor's bill.

"What he wants to do is so egregious to them that they decided it's time to turn out and make their voices heard," said Mr. Abrams, who represents the Maryland Licensed Firearms Dealers Association.

Two weeks ago, Marylanders Against Handgun Abuse, the state's gun control lobby group, rallied in the same spot. However, bitter cold temperatures kept many away and only an estimated 250 to 300 showed up.

With hearings on the governor's bill scheduled for next month, gun control advocates are stepping up their efforts. Tomorrow, a group of prominent businessmen plans to endorse the proposals at a Baltimore news conference.

Supporters from the business community will include Henry A. Rosenberg Jr., chairman of Crown Central Petroleum; Columbia founder James W. Rouse; and Ronald Shapiro of the Baltimore law firm, Shapiro and Olander.

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