Gun-lock legislation aims at safer firearms

General Assembly: Effective compromise appears to rescue governor's handgun bill.

March 25, 2000

NOW THAT a political compromise has been struck, Maryland legislators should take the national lead in handgun safety by approving a bill requiring external locks on side arms sold this year, and a built-in mechanical lock on handguns sold in 2003.

These are practical, achievable steps to curb the accidental use of the deadly weapons.

While stopping short of requiring the unproven built-in, electronic user-ID locks pressed by Gov. Parris N. Glendening, the compromise measure would be a major advance for gun safety.

Chances of the legislation winning General Assembly approval were bolstered by the recent agreement of the nation's largest gun manufacturer, Smith & Wesson, to install built-in trigger locks on its weapons within two years.

The gunmaker, under mounting legal attacks, also pledged to include external locks with its handguns sold this year and to require buyer background checks for gun-show sales.

Maryland's legislation of mandated trigger locks would push other manufacturers, such as Beretta USA in Prince George's County, to comply or lose business to Smith & Wesson.

Beretta, which supplies pistols to the Maryland State Police, recently rejected the state's offer of a $3 million research grant to develop more sophisticated gun locks.

Mr. Glendening's aim to require a personalized, electronic lock on handguns is missing from the amended bill but survives in spirit: the state's Handgun Roster Board would make an annual report on the status of "smart gun" technology.

By voting to take the bill from the Judicial Proceedings Committee to the Senate floor, supporters of the gun control measure showed they had the votes for passage. Republican senators then pulled back from a proposed filibuster against the measure.

Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller exercised his considerable political muscle by persuading Sen. Walter M. Baker, a respected conservative opponent of gun controls, to permit the compromise bill to reach the Senate floor without his committee's approval. In a meaningful concession to the Senate president, Mr. Baker announced he would not join in any filibuster.

We urge senators to take up this handgun safety bill and send it along to the House for its approval. Obstructionist, delaying tactics cannot be allowed to disrupt the Senate's other business this late in the legislative session.

Marylanders clearly want stronger handgun safety measures. We are counting on our elected Senate leaders to strike a blow for this common-sense firearms-protection law.

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