Governor looks for way to get gun bill to floor

Judicial committee might be bypassed on safety legislation

March 16, 2000|By Michael Dresser | Michael Dresser,SUN STAFF

Gov. Parris N. Glendening, asserting that Maryland is in a "death struggle" with gun violence, vowed yesterday to bypass a conservative committee if necessary to ensure a Senate vote on his gun safety legislation.

As the Senate Judicial Proceedings Committee held a hearing on the Smart Guns bill, Glendening acknowledged that he would not be able to get the six votes he needs from the panel to send a "strong" bill to the Senate floor.

He said he was working with Senate leaders to devise an alternative strategy.

"This is going to be a long struggle, but it's worth fighting," Glendening said. He added that he expected a filibuster and was rounding up votes to break one.

The bill would require handguns sold in Maryland to be equipped with devices to prevent them from being fired by unauthorized users.

By 2002, new handguns would have to have built-in locks. More advanced devices, using fingerprints or other means to "recognize" the authorized user, would be required when such personalized guns are commercially available, possibly as early as 2003.

In addition, the legislation would require manufacturers to record the "ballistic fingerprint" of each gun so that any used in crimes could be traced to their owners. The governor is also proposing mandatory gun safety classes and a ban on the resale of police service weapons.

Glendening acknowledged that any bill he could get to the Senate floor "will probably not have everything I want in there." He did not say what he would consider a strong bill.

Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller said he intends to work with Judicial Proceedings but would not rule out finding another route to the floor for the bill. He cautioned that Glendening has to expect changes, saying the bill in its current form wouldn't be approved by any Senate committee.

At yesterday's hearing, Baltimore Mayor Martin O'Malley and state police Superintendent David B. Mitchell were among witnesses supporting the governor's bill, saying it would save lives.

A long-standing proponent of such legislation, Stephen Teret of the Johns Hopkins University Center for Gun Policy and Research, said one manufacturer has the capability to ship a gun with a built-in lock by this summer.

"We're not talking about something that's some far-fetched idea," he said.

Gun-rights advocates heaped scorn on the bill, calling it a ban in disguise and warning that the technology it envisions would have dangerous unintended consequences.

Sanford Abrams, vice president of the Maryland Licensed Firearms Dealers Association, said that if only "smart" guns are available to civilians, criminals will go to great lengths to obtain conventional weapons from police officers. Officers "will be targets for assassination," Abrams said.

Jeffrey Reh, general counsel for Maryland-based Beretta U.S.A. Corp., said that after extensive study, Beretta had not found internal locking technology that it felt was acceptable to build into its products. He said such guns would be expensive, in effect restricting gun ownership.

Dennis Fusaro, director of state and local affairs for Gun Owners of America, appeared with his son Andrew, 12, to denounce the bill as the "burglar protection act." Fusaro said that he began teaching Andrew at age 6 how to handle guns and that he does not believe in keeping guns locked up.

"I would argue that families and parents should be able to decide how firearms are stored in their homes," he said.

Said Andrew: "My mom and dad want me to have access to firearms, including handguns, to help defend my home."

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