Gunning for the gun bill Key votes: One-a-month limit on purchases, regulation of private sales.

March 23, 1996

THE COMING week in Annapolis is pivotal for the administration's handgun-control bill. Close votes in the Senate and a House committee are expected. A defeat would send the wrong message to both concerned citizens and criminals that Maryland isn't serious about cracking down on the sale of guns to the wrong kinds of people.

What Gov. Parris Glendening is proposing isn't revolutionary. He wants Maryland to follow the lead of Virginia and South Carolina by limiting the sale of handguns for an individual to one a month. That hardly imposes a burden on a law-abiding citizen seeking self-protection.

But it would make it impossible for drug gangs and others to obtain hundreds of weapons legally from gun stores. As it stands, this state has become the gun-running capital of the mid-Atlantic region. Such a designation once belonged Virginia until it imposed a one-a-month gun sales limit. Since then, the number of Virginia guns used in violent crimes elsewhere in the region has dropped 65 percent.

Maryland should follow Virginia's lead. It is working there and the limitation on handgun sales should work just as well in this state. At the same time, the governor is right to try to impose the same restrictions on the private sales of handguns as now apply to someone buying a gun at a store. This should end "straw" purchases of weapons that wind up in the hands of criminals. Under the governor's bill, all handgun sales would require a criminal background check and a seven-day waiting period.

Gun groups are pressing senators from conservative areas to reverse their support for this modest measure. So far, it hasn't worked. The endorsement of this compromise bill by Sen. Walter Baker, the key pro-gun legislator, has been the difference. He understands the common-sense logic behind this measure.

But on the House side, gun backers may have better luck. They might shake loose a vote on the Judiciary Committee to defeat the bill outright or attach a killer amendment. If that happens, look for a fiery battle on the House floor to resurrect the Glendening-Baker compromise, with House Speaker Casper R. Taylor caught in the middle.

That would be unfortunate. Mr. Taylor ought to act decisively to ensure that the governor's bill reaches the House floor in a form that is acceptable to both the Senate and to the administration.

Pub Date: 3/23/96

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