Police hanging tough on gun law

Speaker of the House, dealers seek changes in implementation

January 10, 2001|By Greg Garland | Greg Garland,SUN STAFF

Despite complaints from Maryland House Speaker Casper R. Taylor Jr., state police say they do not plan to change the way they are implementing a new gun safety law.

Taylor, an Allegany County Democrat, has said he is concerned that vaguely written regulations and bureaucratic bungling have led to what amounts to a ban on the sale of many legal handguns in Maryland.

But state police say they see no way under the law to make the regulatory changes favored by Taylor and by gun dealers.

"Maryland State Police will not be changing any regulations pertaining to the gun safety act," said Maj. Greg Shipley, the agency's chief spokesman. "We completely respect the speaker and want to work with him and members of the legislature, but this is the law we are working with."

Concerns about the law, which took effect Oct. 1, stem from a requirement that manufacturers provide a spent shell casing with any gun they ship into Maryland.

Each casing contains unique markings - a "ballistic fingerprint" - that can be used to identify a gun if it is later used to commit a crime. Several manufacturers have balked at complying with the requirement, instructing their distributors not to ship their products into Maryland.

Taylor complained about the requirement in a recent letter to state Attorney General J. Joseph Curran Jr. and Col. David B. Mitchell, state police superintendent. Taylor suggested that state police or gun dealers be allowed to create spent casings themselves because some manufacturers have not set up procedures to provide them.

In a letter to Taylor, Curran wrote that "the law vests in the state police the authority to administer the statute in a reasonable fashion," and that changing regulatory procedures is an issue for police to resolve.

But Shipley said the agency does not believe its discretionary authority extends to allowing someone other than the manufacturer to provide shell casings.

"The law clearly states that the manufacturer is responsible," he said.

Taylor expressed surprise when told by a reporter about that position.

"It's probably not acceptable," Taylor said. He said he would write a letter to state police but declined to comment on what other action he might take.

Several firearms makers have told distributors not to ship their handguns to Maryland, including Browning, Colt, North American Arms and High Point.

Travis D. Hall, marketing director for Browning, said manufacturers have several concerns. He said other states are adopting laws similar to Maryland's but could impose much different procedures for creating and providing spent shell casings.

"The key from a manufacturer's standpoint is whether there is going to be consistency in all these different state laws," Hall said. "From our standpoint, it gets to be kind of a nightmare."

Shipley said state police have received shell casings from 17 gun manufacturers, and he expects more to furnish them in the future.

Sanford M. Abrams, vice president of the Maryland Firearms Dealers Association, said the 350 gun dealers who belong to his group remain unhappy with the law. "They are totally frustrated," he said. "They can't get special orders filled. The confusion with the regulations is driving everybody bananas."

Virginia Wolf, executive director of Marylanders Against Handgun Abuse, said an adjustment period always occurs when a law takes effect.

"Of course, gun dealers are going to say whatever they are going to say because they didn't like the law in the first place," she said. "They are blowing the problems all out of proportion."

Wolf said the law was never intended to be a "gun ban," and that she is confident any legitimate problems with the law can be corrected.

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