Balto. Co. prohibits rapid-fire weapons

Gun-rights supporter suggests he might stage loud protest

March 07, 2000|By David Nitkin | David Nitkin,SUN STAFF

Inviting the wrath of gun-rights supporters, the Baltimore County Council voted 5-2 last night to outlaw the firing of machine guns in most areas of the county.

The ban passed despite an intense 11th-hour lobbying effort by pro-gun groups. Each councilman received about 200 telephone calls since Friday, at the urging of the National Rifle Association.

In a mailing to members, the NRA called the bill "just another case of backdoor gun control."

"While today the anti-gunners on the council are targeting fully automatic firearms, tomorrow they could be after your favorite gun," said the mailing, which contained the office numbers of all seven council members.

"I haven't seen an issue as hot as this in 10 years," said Councilman Vincent J. Gardina, a Perry Hall Democrat.

The measure was proposed by council Chairman Joseph Bartenfelder, a Fullerton Democrat, in response to complaints of machine-gun fire in a northern Baltimore County neighborhood.

Bartenfelder, a hunter, said the ban was designed to protect the safety of county residents.

"It's not gun control, trying to sneak something in the back door," he said, adding that he had no intention of seeking a broader weapons restriction in the future.

`Not well-thought-out'

But the two Republicans on the council, Wayne M. Skinner of Towson and T. Bryan McIntire of north county-Owings Mills, voted against the measure, calling it a reactionary solution to an unproven problem.

"It's not well-thought-out. It's not well-reasoned," said McIntire. "It's what I would entitle feel-good legislation."

Concern about machine-gun fire arose after Robert R. Shiflett, owner of the Christian Soldier gun shop in Parkville, bought 16 acres in White Hall last year and began firing some of his 40-odd weapons there.

Stray bullets

Neighbors say it is Shiflett's machine guns that are most disturbing. One resident complained that a stray bullet hit his car. Another said a slug sailed past his head. A window of a nearby home was shattered.

Shiflett denies that any of the incidents were caused by his machine guns, but has agreed as a courtesy to notify his neighbors before he shoots.

That offer was rejected by residents of Bernoudy Road. They say only a total ban on automatic weapons fire is good enough.

"It was unnerving," said Kathleen Cohn, a neighbor. "Even people who are hunters were opposed to the idea of automatic weaponry in the back yard."

Baltimore County bans firearm discharges on property within the metropolitan district line that separates urban and rural properties. The new law, which takes effect Friday, prevents the firing of automatic weapons on property in rural areas, but allows it at authorized firing ranges.

Automatic weapons are guns that fire more than one bullet with a single trigger pull.

Gun-rights supporters said the law was unnecessary because machine guns are among the most heavily regulated weapons and are almost never involved in crimes. Buyers undergo an FBI background check and must register their weapons with the state and federal government.

After sitting silently through last night's council meeting, Shiflett said he wasn't planning a formal challenge to the new law. But he said he is considering demonstrating the measure's folly by lining up a group of his friends and firing weapons repeatedly the day after the law takes effect.

Such a display would surely be more disturbing than firing a lone machine gun, he said, and also be perfectly legal under the new law.

"It's crossed my mind," Shiflett said.

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