One of the reasons gun control remains such a contentious issue is that people on both sides draw different conclusions from similar experiences.
That was vividly illustrated at a Senate committee in Annapolis yesterday where fathers of victims of firearm violence argued both for and against Gov. Parris N. Glendening's gun control bill.
Brian M. Jackson lost his son to gunfire from drug dealers in 1992. His family had tried to clean up their Pigtown neighborhood through a local crime watch, but received little assistance from police, he said. The killer, a juvenile, received a 25-year sentence as part of a plea bargain.
For Mr. Jackson, the solution is getting tougher on criminals, not regulating firearms.
"Put the word 'punishment' back in the justice system," he told the Senate Judicial Proceedings Committee. "What will it take for some of you to open your eyes and see that if you control the criminals, gun control will take care of itself?"
Kenneth Harvard, whose son was shot in January, sees the issue differently. Mr. Harvard moved from Baltimore to Columbia to avoid crime, but his son lost his left eye to a bullet while sledding. Police say they do not know where the bullet came from and do not believe 19-year-old Kenneth Jr. was the intended target.
Mr. Harvard says the governor's bill, which would limit handgun purchases to one per person per month, would make it harder for criminals to buy weapons in bulk.
"I think it's a start," he testified. "Things are out of control."
In addition to limiting purchases, the governor's bill would require handgun buyers to be licensed after submitting to a fingerprint background check and completing a firearms safety course.
The proposal also calls for criminal background checks for private handgun sales, which are not regulated in Maryland.
Although both Mr. Harvard and Mr. Jackson told compelling tales, they are not likely to have much influence on the passage of Mr. Glendening's bill. Many committee members have heard the arguments for years and have already made up their minds.
Instead, observers say, the bill's passage depends on Mr. Glendening's powers of persuasion and whether committee chairman Walter M. Baker helps the governor. A vote in the 11-member committee could come as early as tomorrow, but both advocates and opponents say it is too close to call.
"The trick this year is Baker," said Sen. Ralph M. Hughes, a Baltimore Democrat and committee member. "If he uses his influence on the committee, we can get a swing vote."
The Senate panel has traditionally been a graveyard for gun control legislation. Its chairman, Mr. Baker, a Cecil County Democrat, has been the legislature's most powerful gun control opponent.
This session, the governor picked up surprise support from Mr. Baker, who said he could back some kind of limits on handgun purchases and some type of criminal background check for people buying handguns privately. 4 4TC The senator, however, has said he will not try to corral votes for the governor.