Glendening gun plan gets mixed response Childproof concept called 'premature' by Sauerbrey

September 30, 1998|By Thomas W. Waldron and William F. Zorzi Jr. | Thomas W. Waldron and William F. Zorzi Jr.,SUN STAFF Sun staff writer C. Fraser Smith contributed to this article.

Gov. Parris N. Glendening's proposal to make Maryland the first state to ban the sale of all but childproof handguns won praise yesterday from gun control advocates, but drew protests from gun rights groups.

Republican Ellen R. Sauerbrey offered muted criticism of the proposal, saying she supports the concept of making guns safer but calling Glendening's proposal "quite premature."

She made her comments as Glendening continued to focus attention on the two candidates' differences on gun control -- an issue the governor hopes to exploit before the Nov. 3 election.

Standing next to relatives of two children killed by handguns, Glendening said that he would, if re-elected, propose legislation next year requiring the sale of the child-proof, or "smart," handguns.

The guns use either high- or low-tech safety features and can be fired only by a person authorized to use the weapon. The devices range from a simple combination lock built into the gun to computerized detection devices that can identify a user's fingerprint.

The governor likened the advances to federally required safety features on automobiles.

"If the technology exists to do this, and it does exist, then it's just a matter of forcing the manufacturers to bring them to market," Glendening said.

Supporters say such a law would reduce the number of children killed by firearms and of police who are shot with their weapons.

"This is extremely important legislation," said Nancy A. Fenton, executive director of Marylanders Against Handgun Abuse. "It would put Maryland at the forefront of an issue affecting children and gun safety."

Sauerbrey said the idea of making guns safer was an appealing one, "but that technology is still a long way from being developed."

She declined to say whether she would sign or veto such a measure if it were passed by the legislature. "I think we have to wait and see if there is any such [gun] even on the market," she said.

Opponents of the type of legislation proposed by Glendening said it raises as many questions as it might answer. They contend that many of the more high-tech solutions being pursued have not been perfected, and that the expected cost would make guns significantly more expensive.

Also unanswered are the questions about how to deal with existing guns that are not equipped with the devices.

"The legislation is going to do one of two things: either leave those guns alone or ban those guns," said Jim Manown, spokesman for the National Rifle Association, which opposes required safety devices.

In recent days, Glendening has begun airing television ads criticizing Sauerbrey for her opposition to the state's gun control laws, calling her the "NRA's point person" in the General Assembly.

Glendening will continue with the gun control theme today, when James S. Brady, the former aide to President Ronald Reagan who was injured in an assassination attempt against the president, will endorse the governor, sources said.

It remains unclear how much political support Glendening might gain from the handgun proposal. While Marylanders have tended to support gun control, the voters who care most about the issue are probably already backing Glendening, thanks to his record on the issue, analysts said.

Among those who stood by the governor as he announced his initiative was Vicky King of Baltimore County, whose 11-year-old brother, Corey Buckingham, was accidentally killed last year in Harford County by a 15-year-old friend who had removed a handgun from his father's safe.

With tears streaming down her face, King called on state officials to enact the childproof gun bill for the sake of her son. "My husband and I make our house safe for our son," King said. "I

want to know he'll be safe in someone else's home."

Pub Date: 9/30/98

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