Benefits claimed for gun control Crime decline shows law works, Glendening says

November 15, 1997|By Michael Dresser | Michael Dresser,SUN STAFF

Harking back to one of his administration's earlier victories, Gov. Parris N. Glendening said yesterday that a drop in the state's violent crime rate is evidence that a year-old law restricting multiple handgun sales is working.

Surrounded by an array of confiscated lethal weaponry at the state police warehouse in Jessup, the governor told troopers and gun-control advocates that the law had reduced the number of guns purchased in multiple sales in Maryland from 7,569 to 1,618 about 80 percent -- during its first year.

He was flanked by a large chart showing that violent crimes in the state dropped from 49,756 in 1995 to a projected 44,375 in 1997 -- a 10.8 percent decline.

Glendening did not claim the result was entirely the result of the administration-backed 1996 Gun Violence Act, which seeks to curb large-volume "straw purchases" of handguns for resale to street criminals. But he argued that the law, which took effect Oct. 1 last year, played a part in the decline in violent crime.

"The anti-gun violence bill is one of the key components in making our communities safer," Glendening said, though he added that it was too soon to draw final conclusions about the law's efficacy.

It is not clear how much of the crime drop could be attributed to the gun law, which restricts consumers' handgun purchases to one a month except for certified collectors.

Violent crime figures showed a 5 percent drop in 1996, but the law was in effect only for the last three months of the year. The administration said violent crime dropped 9 percent in the first half of 1997 compared with the first half of 1996, but the projection for the full year predicts a 5 percent decline.

Capt. Greg Shipley, chief spokesman for the state police, said the downward trend in violent crime was apparent before the law took effect. But he said the act "is helping and will continue to help."

Reports from local police departments suggested the law may be having an effect in keeping guns off the street. The governor's office cited statistics showing that Baltimore police had recovered and traced 623 handguns between October 1996 and September 1997, compared with 934 the previous year.

By drawing even a partial connection between a law he championed and the drop in violent offenses, Glendening was clearly staking his claim to the crime issue -- invariably a top concern of voters -- as an election year approaches.

In response to a question, Glendening said he plans no new handgun control initiatives during the legislative session that begins in January.

Pub Date: 11/15/97

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