Glendening to support 'smart' guns Proposal would ban all but childproof, high-tech weapons

Announcement due today

Some uncertain about effectiveness of emerging technology

September 29, 1998|By Thomas W. Waldron and William F. Zorzi Jr. | Thomas W. Waldron and William F. Zorzi Jr.,SUN STAFF Sun staff writer Richard Irwin contributed to this article.

Gov. Parris N. Glendening is expected to propose legislation today that would make Maryland the first state in the country to ban the sale of any handguns that are not childproof, "personalized" weapons, according to sources familiar with the plan.

Under the governor's proposal, the only handguns that could be sold after a three-year phase-in period would be high-tech, so-called "smart" weapons that cannot be fired by anyone but authorized users, sources said.

Glendening would be the first governor in the nation to endorse such legislation, according to gun-control advocates.

The proposal to buttress Maryland's gun-control laws, which are already among the most restrictive in the nation, could make the issue more prominent in Glendening's Nov. 3 re-election bid against Republican Ellen R. Sauerbrey, a strong opponent of gun control.

Glendening and a spokesman declined to comment.

"We are looking forward to making a significant announcement," said Peter S. Hamm, the governor's campaign spokesman.

Gun control advocates said the issue of childproofing weapons, which they liken to the push for safety protections in automobiles and other consumer products, will dominate the gun debate in coming years.

"We have aspirin bottles that are inoperable by young children, but we don't have guns that are inoperable," said Susan DeFrancesco, coordinator for the Johns Hopkins Center for Gun Policy and Research, which developed model legislation dealing with gun design. "This is all about regulating the safe design of guns."

But gun advocates, including the National Rifle Association, say they don't trust the emerging technology and call the idea an unnecessary government intrusion.

Last night, a spokeswoman said Sauerbrey thought the idea had some merit.

"Ellen believes the technology of personalized guns does hold ,, promise for reducing accidents and some intentional misuse of firearms, and she's watching its development with great interest," said Carol L. Hirschburg, a campaign spokeswoman.

Gun manufacturers are developing technologies that allow a gun to be fired only when the owner pulls the trigger.

In one case, a microchip in the weapon stores a record of the fingerprints of authorized shooters. The gun will not fire unless an authorized person is holding it.

Colt Manufacturing Co. in Connecticut is using a federal grant to develop a gun that would not discharge unless the user is wearing an encoded ring or bracelet.

DeFrancesco said such high-tech approaches would stop children from being able to fire handguns and would appeal to police officers concerned about being shot with their own weapons.

Such a device also would render stolen or lost weapons all but useless, DeFrancesco said.

Gun control advocates predicted that if Maryland were to adopt the so-called childproof standards, other states would follow.

"Gun manufacturers wouldn't want to make one kind of gun for Maryland and another for the rest of the country," said Vinnie DeMarco, the former executive director of Marylanders Against Handgun Abuse.

Under the governor's proposal, the state's Handgun Roster Board would be required within a year to develop standards for the sale of "childproof" handguns, sources said.

Two years after the standards are adopted, only handguns that meet them could be sold, according to people familiar with the proposal.

House Speaker Casper R. Taylor Jr. said the idea was, on first blush, an appealing one.

"It's pretty difficult to argue against a childproof weapon," said Taylor, a Cumberland Democrat. "It makes a lot of common sense, assuming the technology is there three years from now."

Sen. Larry E. Haines, a Carroll County Republican and gun-control opponent, said he would resist such a proposal.

"I can't see it at all," Haines said. "It's another bureaucratic nightmare, sounds like to me. I don't know how you regulate it."

Similar bills have been introduced in New York, New Jersey and Pennsylvania.

Several states and municipalities have taken less ambitious steps to keep guns out of the hands of children.

Maryland requires a gun owner to take "reasonable" precautions in keeping loaded firearms away from children.

In Baltimore City and Montgomery and Prince George's counties, laws require gun dealers to sell a trigger lock with any handgun purchased.

The Handgun Roster Board was established a decade ago in an effort to prohibit the sale or manufacture of Saturday night specials" in Maryland -- cheap, easily concealed weapons that were often used in street crime.

Pub Date: 9/29/98

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