Bill seen weakening state's weapons law

Delegate wants to stop making manufacturers provide gun `fingerprint'

January 20, 2001|By Thomas W. Waldron | Thomas W. Waldron,SUN STAFF

The state would no longer require handgun manufacturers to provide a ballistic "fingerprint" for weapons shipped here - an important provision of Maryland's new gun-safety law - under legislation introduced in the General Assembly yesterday.

The measure, sponsored by Del. Kevin Kelly, a conservative Democrat from Western Maryland, would delete a section of the law that went into effect in October requiring firearms companies to provide a spent shell casing from each weapon they send to the state.

The legislature included that provision in the landmark gun-safety bill passed last year to give police a tool to track weapons used in crime.

But several gun manufacturers have opted to stop shipping their weapons to Maryland to avoid having to comply with the shell-casing provision. Gun company representatives say they are worried that other states will enact different requirements and cause the companies logistical problems.

Kelly said the law now amounts to a "de facto gun ban," thanks to the provision dealing with shell casings. "The manufacturers are refusing to ship them into Maryland," he said.

Last year's gun bill prompted a huge lobbying effort on both sides of the issue and was narrowly passed over the heated objections of gun-rights advocates.

General Assembly leaders said they would be reluctant to take up the issue again this year. Some said they fear that legislators on both sides of the gun-control issue could try to amend Kelly's bill to try either to undo, or to strengthen, the new handgun law.

Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller called the law "abundantly clear" and said gun companies will eventually accept it in order to resume doing business in Maryland

"I think these companies can supply a casing," said Miller, a Prince George's Democrat.

Del. Kenneth C. Montague Jr., a Baltimore Democrat who backed the gun bill last year, said he would likely support amending the law to give gun companies and dealers more flexibility to supply the shell casings.

But he said he feared that other legislators might seek more substantive changes in the law if a bill starts moving through the legislature.

"The problem is, when you put a gun bill on the floor [of the House or Senate], you don't know what's going to happen," Montague said.

Along with the shell-casing provision, the law requires that all handguns sold in Maryland come with a mechanical trigger lock. Beginning in 2003, all handguns sold in the state will have to be equipped with a built-in locking device.

Supporters say the locks will cut down on accidental shootings, suicides and the use of stolen handguns in crimes.

A spokesman for Gov. Parris N. Glendening, the chief sponsor of last year's gun-safety bill, said the governor is opposed to any effort to change the section on ballistic testing.

Michael Morrill, the spokesman, said more gun companies are beginning to adjust to the new law. "Manufacturers who are interested in complying with state law are already in the process of doing this," Morrill said.

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