Smith & Wesson settlement vindicates initiative on guns, Glendening says

Governor raises pressure on Assembly to pass bill lingering in committee

March 18, 2000|By Michael Dresser | Michael Dresser,SUN STAFF

Gov. Parris N. Glendening claimed vindication yesterday after the Clinton administration and Smith & Wesson announced a settlement that closely tracks some of the provisions of his gun safety initiative.

The governor wasted little time in using the deal to ratchet up pressure on the General Assembly to pass his "smart guns" legislation, which has been bottled up in a state Senate committee.

At an afternoon news conference, Glendening said the settlement refuted opponents' claims that the technology called for in his bill is not available.

"I urge my colleagues in the legislature to recognize that the largest gun manufacturer has said it can do exactly what we were asking it to do," the governor said.

Leading legislators said the St. Patrick's Day announcement was a lucky break for Glendening at a time when the bill faces some daunting hurdles.

The governor has conceded that even with the Smith & Wesson news, he lacks the votes to win in the Senate Judicial Proceedings Committee. He and his allies are looking for another vehicle to get the initiative to the Senate floor -- an effort that could be complicated by a recent Maryland Court of Appeals ruling.

Glendening noted that the settlement calls for Smith & Wesson, within 24 months, to put built-in mechanical locks in all the handguns it manufactures. That deadline is about three months later than the governor is proposing for requiring the same technology in all handguns sold in Maryland.

Smith and Wesson is also promising to include smart-gun technology in all its handguns within 36 months. The term refers to systems which use fingerprints or other means to prevent a gun from being fired by an unauthorized user. The 36-month deadline is roughly in line with the earliest date that gun makers could be forced to adopt such technology under the administration bill.

Glendening said gun safety advocates already occupied the moral high ground on the issue. "What this does is show we have the factual high ground because it in fact can be done," he said.

A key opponent, Sen. Philip C. Jimeno, an Anne Arundel Democrat, said the settlement would not win his support for the bill. "I'm excited to hear that, but I'm not in a position to mandate," said Jimeno, who is a member of Judicial Proceedings.

Jeffrey Reh, general counsel of Beretta U.S.A., said Smith & Wesson's action would not affect the Prince George's County gun manufacturer's opposition to the bill.

But Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller and House Speaker Casper R. Taylor Jr. said the settlement strengthens the governor's prospects of winning passage of a bill with the internal lock requirement. But Miller said smart-gun technologies are still "too far out" to require by law.

He said efforts by supporters of the bill to bypass Judicial Proceedings and get the issue to the Senate floor could be complicated by the Court of Appeals decision issued Tuesday. It struck down a law that the court said violated a constitutional requirement that bills deal with just one subject.

The decision, which has caused consternation in the General Assembly, called into question the tactic of grafting the language of one bill onto another that might be vaguely related.

Supporters of the gun safety bill have been considering a move to amend its key provisions onto other legislation -- most likely a companion bill moving through another Senate committee. Some opponents suggested yesterday that that route might have been blocked by the court decision.

Taylor said he expects the Assembly to pass a constitutional amendment this year to reverse the decision. Such an amendment would have to be approved by voters in the November election.

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