ROCKVILLE - A bid to halt all gun shows in Montgomery County is dividing lawmakers in Maryland's most affluent and populous county, as suburban mothers concerned about violence square off against gun owners and gun dealers.
The County Council postponed a vote yesterday on a hotly debated bill that would cut off county funding for any group that permits the sale of firearms at its facilities.
Blair Ewing, president of the nine-member council, asked for a two-week delay to consider possible changes to his bill so that it might win the support of "a couple" more council members. He expressed confidence, however, that he has enough votes.
Though not named in the measure, Montgomery's privately owned fairgrounds in Gaithersburg is widely recognized as a principal target because two gun shows are held there each year.
County law bars gun shows in or near public places, but the prohibition does not apply in Montgomery's municipalities. Gaithersburg city officials have balked at adopting the same restriction for the fairgrounds' owner, Montgomery County Agricultural Center.
Officials of the center, which has received county funds, have not said whether they will stop renting the fairgrounds for gun shows if the bill passes.
The measure has the support of Marylanders Against Handgun Abuse and the Million Mom March, a nationwide movement to curb gun violence. But the bill has drawn the ire of gun-rights advocates and the promoter of the fairgrounds gun shows.
"They're violating the fairgrounds' First Amendment rights by saying they can't engage in business with me," contends Frank Krasner, owner of Silverado Promotions in Gaithersburg. He said his business has never been cited for violating Maryland's strict gun-control laws, which a Maryland State Police spokesman confirmed.
A February hearing on the measure was marked by catcalls and booing, primarily from opponents of the measure. Some members of a group calling itself the "Tyranny Response Team" were on hand at yesterday's council meeting, wearing Revolution-era tricorn hats. They contended that the bill is part of a broad assault on firearm owners' civil liberties, because the shows often offer a forum for opposing gun controls.
"They're not worried so much about gun sales," Bill White said of the bill's supporters. "They're worried about gun shows as a center of political organizing."
On that point, the council president seemed to agree. "These are not benign places," Ewing said. "The one I went to had a good deal of hate literature - racist and anti-Jewish. People don't like that in Montgomery County."
Though gun show bans have been struck down in some courts around the country, Ewing said he is confident his bill would withstand a legal challenge.
"We go to court a lot," he said. "It doesn't bother me. I think we'll win."