State senator to seek ban on handguns as prizes

County GOP holding raffle for 9 mm pistol

January 14, 2000|By Mary Gail Hare | Mary Gail Hare,SUN STAFF

Amid renewed debate over a gun raffle to benefit Carroll County Republicans, a Baltimore-area state senator plans to introduce legislation that would prohibit offering a handgun as a prize in such a contest.

Sen. Barbara A. Hoffman, a Democrat whose district includes parts of the city and Baltimore County, has told a Manchester couple whose 13-year-old son died in an accidental shooting two years ago that she would push for such a ban.

"We have worked with the senator on several bills, and she has told us she is willing to sponsor one that would ban gun raffles," said John Price, who approached Hoffman with his wife, Carole. "People in the state are appalled by the raffle in Carroll County. All over the state, there are gun buy-backs. Here in Carroll, we have our representatives promoting handguns."

The senator said yesterday that she has drafted a bill -- not yet filed -- that would prohibit anyone statewide from operating a raffle in which a handgun is offered as a prize.

"I have great sympathy and pity for these people," Hoffman said of the Prices, "and I think that handguns are an inappropriate prize. There's plenty of other prizes that people would buy tickets for, other than a weapon which can only do harm."

The legislation would be introduced at a time when gun enthusiasts from across the country are buying tickets for a chance to win a 9 mm pistol being raffled by the Carroll County Republican Central Committee. Nearly 1,000 tickets have been sold, and the fund-raiser will continue until the winning ticket is drawn Feb. 26.

Price plans to press legislators on behalf of Hoffman's bill.

The fund-raiser has caused a rift among the Carroll GOP, which dominates local politics. Betty L. Smith, who was a central committee member, resigned last week in opposition to what she called "the sale of guns on the streets."

State Republican leaders, including two-time gubernatorial candidate Ellen R. Sauerbrey, have criticized the raffle as ill-timed and poor politics.

This week, Rep. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr., a Baltimore County Republican, said that at a time when debate should be focused on what he called extreme gun control proposals by Maryland Attorney General J. Joseph Curran Jr., "all anyone is talking about is this raffle."

But Republican state Sen. Timothy R. Ferguson, who represents Carroll and Frederick counties, said that statement "offends the core constituency of the Republican Party, who are gunners and hunters. In an attempt to reach out to the middle, Ehrlich could lose his base."

Ferguson said the raffle "is perfectly legitimate and nothing anyone should be ashamed of," adding that similar raffles occur throughout Western Maryland during the summer carnival season. "The winner will go through the same process as if he had walked into a gun shop and made a purchase."

Ferguson said he will make right-to-carry-a-gun legislation his priority this year, hoping to expand on laws that allow residents to carry a concealed handgun.

Ferguson will challenge the state's right-to-carry law that permits residents who pass stringent criteria -- including criminal and personal background checks -- to carry a handgun. The state police hold "arbitrary powers" to deny those permits, Ferguson said. His proposed bill would eliminate the police right of denial from the law.

"A citizen, who needs a permit to carry, applies and then, after an investigation, clears all the hurdles," said Ferguson. "The state police can still deny the permit without giving a reason. With my bill, there would be no denying to law-abiding citizens who have cleared the hurdles."

In the 38 states that have enacted similar legislation, applications have increased by about 3 percent, and violent crime has dropped significantly, Ferguson said.

"The bad guys don't know who is carrying a gun, and they think twice before pulling a gun," he said. "This is a bad planet with bad people, and the good people have to be ready."

Sun staff writer Sheridan Lyons contributed to this article.

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