Democrats defend senator's gun raffle

`Hypocrisy' of reaction to Carroll gun raffle decried by House whip

March 22, 2000|By Gady A. Epstein | Gady A. Epstein,SUN STAFF

When Gov. Parris N. Glendening held another gun control press conference yesterday, he took a partisan swat at the Carroll County Republican Central Committee for raffling a handgun.

But it turns out that it's not just Republicans who are using guns to raise money.

Sen. John C. Astle, an Annapolis Democrat and lifelong hunter, gave away two Beretta shotguns as door prizes at a September fund-raiser -- his second annual "Sporting Clay Fun Shoot."

"The Democrats have been pretty darn hypocritical about criticizing a gun raffle in Carroll County when a Democratic senator has been having gun raffles right under the governor's nose," said Del. Robert L. Flanagan, the House Republican whip.

"If the Republicans do something, they're shocked and dismayed. And if a Democrat does the same thing, they sweep it under the rug," Flanagan said.

Glendening and Astle both said using a hunting weapon as a prize is not the same as raffling a handgun.

The governor has been to many events at which hunting guns were given away as prizes, said Michael Morrill, a Glendening spokesman.

"He sees a big difference between guns that are used to kill people and guns that are used for hunting," Morrill said.

The Carroll County Republican Central Committee sparked widespread criticism and caused a rift among party leaders when it decided last year to raffle a 9 mm Beretta handgun, worth about $500. The committee ended up raising about $16,000 and presented the gun last month to a 66-year-old Carroll woman.

Glendening and Democrats immediately seized on the raffle as they pushed the importance of gun control. The governor is seeking legislation to require that handguns sold in Maryland be equipped with locking devices and, eventually, technology that prevents anyone but the authorized user from firing the weapon.

The governor took another opportunity yesterday to criticize the GOP raffle while praising Howard County Democratic leaders for raffling a gun lock.

"One party, the Republicans, are raffling off a product which is designed to take lives," Glendening said. "We're raffling off a product which is designed to save lives."

Some state Republican leaders also had criticized the Carroll raffle, arguing it was the wrong way to counter gun control rhetoric.

Astle said yesterday that his event was different.

"They did a handgun," he said. "This is a shooting event that uses shotguns."

The two Beretta shotguns Astle gave away were worth about $700 each. One was donated by the host of the event. Astle's campaign solicited the other from Beretta U.S.A., the Prince George's County-based gun manufacturer.

The fund-raiser drew 69 people and raised roughly $15,000 for his campaign, Astle said. As the owner of "20-something" guns, he said he wanted to do something besides hold a golf tournament to raise money.

"I'm a hunter. I'm a shooter. It's a sport that I enjoy," Astle said. "Golf tournaments are sort of passe."

Like Glendening, he said gun control legislation was generally aimed at handguns, which are often used in the commission of crimes.

Flanagan countered that criminals use shotguns, too, and said it shouldn't make a difference which is given away as a prize. "They're hypocrites," he said.

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