Pistol safety on the books

Law requires buyers of handguns, other arms to take course

`A lot of ... dos and don'ts'

45-minute video is part of program, but testing isn't

January 01, 2002|By Ivan Penn | Ivan Penn,SUN STAFF

As part of the governor's gun-control efforts, Marylanders seeking to purchase handguns will first be required to take a two-hour safety training course under a state law that takes effect today.

More than 1,000 gun owners have taken the new course, state officials said, which includes a 45-minute in-classroom video but which by law does not require testing.

Some longtime gun enthusiasts have criticized the course as a waste of time, but even many seasoned veterans will have to take the course if they purchase a new handgun or other regulated firearm, such as an assault rifle.

"Those who have no training at all find it interesting and informative," said Michael Mullin, assistant range master for the state Police Training Commission. "Some people say it's too simplistic. They receive a lot of safety dos and don'ts."

The video gives instruction on such subjects as trigger locks, properly storing a firearm inside a house and keeping the gun out of reach of children. Law enforcement officers, military personnel and holders of state permits to carry a handgun are not required to take the course. It is free to all who are required to take it.

Gun-control advocates said they had pushed for a tougher safety course for those purchasing handguns but reached a compromise that significantly reduced requirements for the program. They had sought such requirements as mandatory testing as part of the training.

Hunters, for instance, are required to take a minimum 10-hour class, pass a 50-question written test and demonstrate safe firearm handling before they can get a hunting license in Maryland.

"We would have liked to have a longer, more extensive training course," said Ginni Wolf, director of Marylanders Against Handgun Abuse. "We started out with a lot more, and it got shot down. This was the best we could come up with where everybody was happy.

"Everything was geared to protecting children."

Gov. Parris N. Glendening pushed the training course as part of his Responsible Gun Safety Act during the 2000 General Assembly as a way to curb gun violence. The law contains some of the nation's toughest provisions, including a requirement that manufacturers equip handguns with built-in trigger locks. It also requires firearms makers to provide ballistic information about each handgun to state police to help them solve crimes.

The General Assembly approved legislation last year requiring every public school student to take a gun-safety class. But Glendening vetoed the measure - a compromise between gun-control advocates and opponents - after teachers complained that the class might have the effect of encouraging students to use firearms, rather than discouraging them from handling them.

At least 25 other states require gun-safety training before the purchase of a firearm, according to The Brady Center to Prevent Gun Violence, a Washington group that promotes gun control. About a half-dozen states require training in firearm use before purchase.

Although a tough political battle was fought over the governor's gun-safety package, minimal objection has appeared to the safety education requirement.

"Nobody is going to object to more training," said Sanford Abrams, vice president of Maryland Licensed Firearms Dealers Association Inc. "There's nothing revolutionary in safety training. It's just basic, common-sense safety rules."

Maryland residents can take the course through the Maryland Police Training Commission at locations throughout the state, or they can take the class from other certified organizations and agencies. Abrams said 80 of his organization's 125 dealers have signed up to offer the course, which likely will keep waiting time for gun purchases to a minimum.

Last year, about 20,000 people bought 30,000 handguns in Maryland. Baltimore City and Anne Arundel, Baltimore, Montgomery and Prince George's counties accounted for more than half of those purchases. Gun purchasers are required to take the course only once, even if they buy more weapons later.

Although some see it as an elementary course, Abrams said he does not hear many objections to sitting through the 45-minute video.

"It can't hurt," he said. "But it's probably not enough training for some people."

The Police Training Commission has scheduled its next courses for tomorrow and Jan. 9. Information: 410-552-6300 or the state's firearms safety Web site at www.mdgunsafety.com.

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