Taking chances with gun safety

The Political Game

Raffle: Howard County Democrats respond to a GOP gun giveaway by selling tickets for a trigger lock.

March 21, 2000|By Thomas W. Waldron | Thomas W. Waldron,SUN STAFF

FIRST THE CARROLL County Republicans raffled off a handgun to raise money.

Now comes the Howard County Democratic Central Committee with a raffle of its own. But the prize is a gun trigger lock.

"With the Carroll County Republican Central Committee raffling off a handgun, which is designed to kill people, we thought it would be an appropriate response to raffle off a child safety lock -- something designed to save people's lives," said Neil Quinter, a Howard County Democratic official.

The committee will be raffling a Master Lock 90D, a trigger lock that works on most rifles, shotguns and handguns. It sells for $10 and tickets will cost $1. The Carroll County GOP raffled a 9 mm handgun worth about $500 and raised $16,000.

Quinter said he expects the raffle to raise a significant amount of money for Howard County Democrats from gun control forces around the state. And just as the Carroll gun raffle drew interest from around the country, Quinter said he would not be surprised if the gun lock raffle drew support from outside Maryland.

"We expect there will be substantial interest in this from people who support gun safety," Quinter said.

Gov. Parris N. Glendening will speak today at a State House event to start the raffle. The governor is using the event to spur General Assembly action on his "Smart Gun" legislation, which is stalled in a state Senate committee.

Glendening is basking in last week's news that Smith & Wesson, the nation's largest gun manufacturer, has agreed to incorporate sophisticated new safety devices on its products within three years.

The company has essentially agreed to the key provisions of the governor's legislation, potentially muting criticism by opponents that the bill is unrealistic.

Patience and courtesy wear thin as Assembly nears end

Members of the public who venture to Annapolis to testify on legislation are often startled by their visits to General Assembly committees.

At this late stage of the Assembly's 90-day session -- 20 days and counting -- lawmakers are losing patience with witnesses.

"Please don't read your testimony," Del. Joseph F. Vallario Jr. instructed people waiting to speak last week before the House Judiciary Committee.

At a hearing on the governor's gun bill, Sen. Walter M. Baker warned witnesses not to tell any sob stories about shootings.

Once hearings begin, it's rare for the entire panel to sit through all the testimony. At any given time, more than half of the committee members might be out of the room. And it's not unusual for a legislator who does stay to take a quick catnap during testimony.

Even congressmen don't get cut much slack.

U.S. Rep. Wayne T. Gilchrest appeared before the House Environmental Matters Committee last week to support bills to ban or delay the dumping of dredge spoil at Site 104 in the Chesapeake Bay.

The committee's vice chairman, Del. Michael H. Weir of Baltimore County, gave Gilchrest three minutes to make his case, just like everyone else.

As the three minutes expired, Weir instructed Gilchrest to "wrap it up," while another committee member signaled time had run out by moving his hand across his throat.

Advocates opposed to the use of the dumping site complained that Weir had gone too far.

"Citizens, many of whom were witnessing this process for the first time, asked, `If they can treat a United States congressman this rudely, what will they do to me?' " the advocates wrote in a letter to the Committee Chairman, Del. Ron Guns, which they released to reporters.

For his part, Gilchrest said, "I don't feel offended, I feel sad."

Weir said that with 120 witnesses signed up, he had to keep the hearing moving. Gilchrest, he said, was actually given four minutes.

"Nobody's going to accuse me of not treating everyone equally," Weir said.

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