`Smart gun' proposal elicits strong feelings at hearing

33 people address commission in Baltimore

October 13, 1999|By Rafael Alvarez | Rafael Alvarez,SUN STAFF

Very little middle ground was evident at a public hearing convened in Baltimore last night by a gubernatorial commission studying ways to make "childproof" handguns mandatory in Maryland.

"Smart gun" legislation proposed by Gov. Parris N. Glendening would make Maryland the first state to require that all handguns sold be equipped with technology to prevent unauthorized users from firing them. Such technology is believed to be about two to four years away.

Opponents who attended last night's meeting of the governor's Task Force on Childproof Guns at Maryland Shock Trauma Center downtown said such a law would amount to a ban on handguns. Supporters, many of them loved ones of people killed by handguns, said anything that makes firearms safer is a step in the right direction.

Thirty-three people addressed the commission, chaired by Col. David B. Mitchell, superintendent of the Maryland State Police. Mitchell counted 22 citizens in favor of the governor's effort and 11 against.

"It's an emotional issue on both sides. But it's not about banning all handguns, which some people would like, it's about gun safety," Mitchell said. "What stuck in my mind was the gentleman who stuck to the fact that technology has made our life better. We'd be foolish not to make guns safer. This shouldn't shift into an argument about the Second Amendment" right to bear arms.

The public hearing last night was the second of five that will be held before the General Assembly convenes in January. The next meeting is scheduled for 7 p.m. Monday at Chesapeake College on U.S. 50 in Wye Mills.

Many gun proponents argued last night that gun safety training for schoolchildren -- and not devices that make it more difficult for a law-abiding citizen to fire a weapon -- should be a priority.

"We teach our kids the dangers of drugs, alcohol and sex, why not guns?" said Sanford Abrams, vice president of the Maryland Licensed Firearms Dealers Association. "You could teach gun safety to every kid in the state for $60,000. That's less than the governor spends on shrimp at a fund-raiser to get re-elected."

Carol Price, whose 13-year-old son John was killed last year by a 9-year-old friend who was handling his family's gun, said she will lobby as hard as she can for safe-gun legislation but doesn't see compromise.

"There is no middle ground," said Price, who passed a photograph of her son around the room. "One way or the other, there are going to be extreme decisions made."

Pub Date: 10/13/99

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