Gun control bill clears key hurdle State Senate panel, former 'black hole,' passes proposal, 6-5

Assembly OK expected

Handgun purchases to be limited to one per person per month

March 19, 1996|By Frank Langfitt | Frank Langfitt,SUN STAFF

Gov. Parris N. Glendening's gun control bill passed its first and most difficult test in the legislature yesterday, and even opponents predicted that the measure is likely to win General Assembly approval.

The Senate Judicial Proceedings Committee, traditionally a black hole for gun control bills, approved the governor's proposal to limit handgun purchases to one per person per month. The vote was 6-5.

"This is the toughest hurdle," Mr. Glendening said. "I think we're going to have a good, strong bill and I'm very pleased.

One of the state's most knowledgeable gun rights supporters agreed that the measure is now likely to become law.

"Our chance to stop it was in [the committee,]" said Bob McMurray, chairman of the Maryland Committee Against the Gun Ban. Now, the bill "will just sail right on through," he said.

The legislation would make Maryland only the third state behind South Carolina and Virginia to limit handgun purchases. Passage also would represent a significant victory for the governor in his second General Assembly session.

As a candidate in 1994, Mr. Glendening had promised to push for gun control in Annapolis. But after winning the race by less than 6,000 votes, he declined to pursue the issue last year, citing a lack of legislative support.

The one-gun-a-month limit is designed to make it harder for people to buy weapons in bulk and sell them to criminals. The bill would also require criminal background checks for people who buy guns from private citizens, a loophole through which criminals routinely obtain weapons.

Although the Senate committee endorsed those measures, it rejected the plan to require handgun buyers to obtain licenses. Licensing is anathema to many gun rights supporters, who believe the government would eventually use the information to locate and seize all privately held firearms.

The governor said he is satisfied with the legislation as it emerged from the committee and said he will not propose any more gun control bills during his four-year term, which will end in 1999.

Mr. Glendening's bill now heads to the Senate floor, where it is expected to come up for a preliminary vote tomorrow. The governor says he has enough votes for approval. In the House of Delegates, the bill is also thought to have a good chance of passage.

"The fact that the bill is coming out of Judicial Proceedings indicates to me that it has a higher level of momentum than it [had] in the past," said House Speaker Casper R. Taylor Jr., a Cumberland Democrat.

The political turning point for Mr. Glendening's bill came at the beginning of this year's legislative session, when Judicial Proceedings Chairman Walter M. Baker surprised many in the State House by saying that he could support the purchase limit.

Mr. Baker, a conservative Cecil County Democrat, had helped to engineer the defeat of many previous gun control proposals. As chairman of the Senate panel that considers gun legislation, he had swatted away most bills like flies, sometimes burying them in his desk drawer and refusing to bring them up for a vote.

The senator became such an effective opponent that in 1994, Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller Jr. rerouted an assault-pistol ban to another committee to ensure its passage.

This year, Mr. Baker and the governor reached a compromise. In exchange for the chairman's crucial support, Mr. Glendening promised to veto the bill if any other gun control measures were attached to it on the Senate floor.

"The governor has given me his assurance: If this bill is changed, he will veto it," Mr. Baker said last night.

The one-gun-a-month provision is based on a 1993 law in Virginia. While it is often difficult to measure the impact of gun control laws because of the huge numbers of weapons in circulation, evidence suggests that the Virginia law may have helped reduce so-called "straw" purchases.

Mr. McMurray said the bill's passage would not be a defeat for the gun rights movement."Very, very few of us buy one gun a month anyway, and only under extreme circumstances," he said.

Roll-call vote

The state Senate Judicial Proceedings Committee passed Gov. Parris N. Glendening's gun control bill last night by a vote

of 6-5. Here is how members voted:

Voting Yea

Sen. Walter M. Baker, D-Cecil

Sen. Jennie Forehand, D-Montgomery

Sen. Leo E. Green, D-Prince George's

Sen. Delores G. Kelley, D-Balto. Co.

Sen. Ralph M. Hughes, D-Baltimore

Sen. C. Edward Middlebrooks, R-Anne Arundel

Voting Nay

Sen. Richard F. Colburn, R-Dorchester

Sen. Timothy R. Ferguson, R-Carroll

Sen. Larry E. Haines, R-Carroll

Sen. Philip C. Jimeno, D-Anne Arundel

Sen. Norman R. Stone Jr., D-Balto. Co.

Pub Date: 3/19/96

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