Gun control clears hurdle in the Senate as amendments fail Opponents scramble to change minds by Tues.

March 22, 1996|By Peter Jensen | Peter Jensen,SUN STAFF

Gov. Parris N. Glendening's gun control legislation won preliminary approval in the Maryland Senate yesterday, leaving opponents scrambling to change some senators' minds before a final vote Tuesday.

Opponents had threatened to filibuster the proposal to delay a final vote until next week. When Senate leaders agreed to the Tuesday vote, opponents scrapped the filibuster idea and focused on lobbying efforts during the weekend.

"We want some people to feel the heat," said Sen. Timothy R. Ferguson, a Carroll County Republican who has led a coalition of primarily Republican and rural senators opposed to the bill. "It's a shot in the dark, but it's our last chance."

The legislation would restrict handgun purchases to one per person per month and, for the first time in Maryland, regulate sales between private individuals. It advanced after opponents tried without success to add seven amendments to the bill. Most failed by 2-1 margins.

That left supporters confident they have enough votes to win final Senate approval and send the measure to the House of Delegates, where approval also is expected.

"I think people's minds are made up," said Vincent DeMarco, a Maryland lobbyist for Washington-based Handgun Control Inc. "There's very strong support for this proposal."

The relative ease of the governor's victory yesterday demonstrated how crucial it was to have gained the support of Sen. Walter M. Baker, chairman of the Senate Judicial Proceedings Committee and the greatest roadblock to gun control in the past.

The Cecil County Democrat was put in the unusual position of defending the measure yesterday on the Senate floor, often deflecting amendments with an eight-word speech, "I urge the Senate to reject this amendment," and sitting down.

Opponents said the weekend will be devoted to mustering grass-roots opposition. Senator Ferguson said he believes 20 senators will vote against the bill, and he needs at least four more if it is to be defeated.

"We're hanging on by our fingernails, but sometimes that works," said Richard C. Thompson, legislative director for the Maryland State Rifle and Pistol Association. "We have an opportunity to explain to senators what's wrong with this."

John H. Josselyn, legislative vice president of the Associated Gun Clubs of Baltimore, said he was discouraged about his chances to defeat the bill but vowed to continue fighting.

"There will be an effort," he said. "There's always the potential."

One likely target is Sen. Edward Middlebrooks, an Anne Arundel County Republican who was the lone GOP supporter of the bill in committee despite a stated opposition to gun control in the past. His office has received more than 100 telephone calls on the issue, most from constituents upset with his vote.

Senator Middlebrooks said he has tried to talk to all of the callers. He said their anger usually dissipates when they learn more about the proposal.

"I ask them, 'How often do you purchase more than one gun a month?' " Mr. Middlebrooks said. "They say they haven't."

The governor's legislation also would ban so-called "straw" purchases in which a handgun is bought on behalf of someone else. It would require people who buy handguns privately to submit to a criminal background check and a seven-day waiting period just as they would if they bought from a dealer.

Pub Date: 3/22/96

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