Maryland targets weapons traffic Anti-gun initiative gets Clinton's support

July 08, 1998|By William F. Zorzi Jr. | William F. Zorzi Jr.,SUN STAFF

Lt. Gov. Kathleen Kennedy Townsend will unveil today the administration's latest anti-gun program for Maryland -- a plan that will target illegal gun trafficking -- and pick up a high-profile blessing by President Clinton at the White House.

The plan, known as the 1998 Maryland Gun Enforcement Initiative, will attempt to trace every gun seized or recovered in the state through an arrangement with the federal government, establish an Office of Crime Gun Enforcement and a state "gun czar," and focus anti-gun efforts in the state's crime "Hot Spots" -- with a special emphasis on youth gun violence.

"This will be a comprehensive effort to get at gun trafficking, to stop the selling of weapons that are destroying our communities," Townsend said yesterday. "Unlike drug trafficking gun trafficking has not been on people's radar screens."

The state effort -- the first of its kind in the nation -- is designed to reduce by 50 percent gun-related crime in Maryland by 2002. There were nearly 16,000 violent crimes committed with guns in 1996, the latest year for which data is available, according to Townsend's office.

The Clinton White House apparently seized on the opportunity to use the program as an example of a state's aggressive anti-gun plan as it pushes for a measure on Capitol Hill that would hold adults liable for failing to have firearms stored safely away from anyone under age 18 who later uses the weapons illegally.

Maryland has a similar "child access prevention" law, passed in 1992, which makes it illegal for adults to allow anyone under age 16 access to firearms, unless they are supervised.

In a Rose Garden ceremony, Clinton and Vice President Al Gore are also expected to announce today that the government will require certain warning signs to be posted in gun shops.

Executive order

Gov. Parris N. Glendening, who is not able to attend the announcement, will sign an executive order today creating the state's new Office of Crime Gun Enforcement to coordinate the tracing and investigation efforts.

The order also will require state law enforcement agencies to submit all guns recovered at crime scenes and through criminal investigations to the federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms, known as ATF, for tracing, analysis of tracking patterns and ballistics.

The state plans won immediate high praise from gun control advocates and police agencies.

"This is going to go a long way to reducing gun-related crimes because they're going to find out where these guns are coming from and get to those sources," said Nancy A. Fenton, executive director of Marylanders Against Handgun Abuse.

"All these strategies are so important," Fenton said. "Everything they're working on is right on target."

Currently, many of Maryland's police departments -- on the state, county and local levels -- do not trace the history of guns they retrieve or share the information. The new effort will attempt to remedy that.

'Gun czar'

Capt. Thomas Bowers of the Maryland State Police will be named director of the new office, a position that is viewed by the administration as that of "gun czar," Townsend said. Bowers will report to Col. David B. Mitchell, the State Police superintendent.

Bowers' office will coordinate statewide police efforts with the ATF National Tracing Center in West Virginia. Through software now being developed, local police agencies will check, via computer, with a state trooper assigned to the ATF center.

Under Glendening's order, Bowers' new office will oversee the efforts of the State Police's Cease Fire Unit, which has confiscated more than 1,100 illegal assault weapons and other illegal firearms since it was created in late 1995.

The office will work with the ATF and local police to pursue illegal gun trafficking investigations within and outside the state and target repeat offenders involved in gun-related violence for arrest and prosecution.

The office will help coordinate gun enforcement efforts with local and federal authorities in crime "Hot Spots" -- neighborhoods identified as having high gun crime, especially involving youths.

It also will work closely with liaisons from the Department of Juvenile Justice, Division of Parole and Probation, the Governor's Office of Crime Control and Prevention, and the University of Maryland, which administers the Washington/Baltimore High Intensity Drug Trafficking Area project, part of a federal anti-drug program.

Pub Date: 7/08/98

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