Gun control advocates push for new legislation

Two bills to be introduced seek licensing of buyers, more safety training

January 22, 2002|By Ivan Penn | Ivan Penn,SUN STAFF

Gun control advocates want Maryland to require licenses and fingerprinting of people who buy handguns and assault-style rifles.

During a news conference yesterday at Maryland Shock Trauma Center, leaders of state and national gun control organizations said they believe licensing would help prevent firearms from landing in the hands of criminals.

They said that while Maryland requires newly purchased firearms to be registered, studies suggest it would be more effective to require licensing as well.

The legislation - filed yesterday for introduction in the General Assembly this week - appears to face an uphill fight.

A spokeswoman for Gov. Parris N. Glendening said he would not stand on the front lines pushing the legislation because of promises he made two years ago that he would not press lawmakers for more gun laws.

Glendening previously won passage of legislation that requires handguns to be sold with safety locks and gun purchasers to take a safety training course.

Even so, gun control advocates said more needs to be done. One concern, they said, is the number of people taken to Shock Trauma as a result of gun violence.

Hospital officials said yesterday that the number of shooting victims brought to Shock Trauma tops 650 a year.

"I just think it is incumbent upon all of us in government - federal government, state government, city government - to say enough is enough," said state Attorney General J. Joseph Curran Jr.

Curran joined Marylanders Against Handgun Abuse, the Million Mom March and the Educational Fund to Stop Gun Violence in announcing the legislation.

"We will no doubt have a tough battle ahead of us," said Ginni Wolf, executive director of Marylanders Against Handgun Abuse. "Common sense is on our side. Handgun licensing is a step in the right direction."

The proposal is drawing fire from the National Rifle Association. NRA officials said they believe new laws only make it more difficult for law-abiding citizens to obtain firearms, which is their right under the U.S. Constitution.

"It's just another example of misguided public policy," said Greg Costa, an NRA lobbyist. "Attacking the rights of law-abiding gun owners is not the answer."

Gun control advocates are pushing for two bills.

The first is the licensing bill, which includes a requirement for fingerprinting as well as proof that the applicant has completed a firearm safety course and is not barred by state or federal law from possessing a regulated firearm.

The second bill would strengthen the safety course requirements by adding hands-on instruction in safe marksmanship and safe gun use around children.

Maryland's current safety course requires a person to watch a 45-minute video before obtaining a handgun or regulated assault-style rifle.

In addition, the second bill would increase penalties for leaving a gun where a child has access to it from up to $1,000 to - under some circumstances - up to three years in prison and $10,000 in fines.

While Glendening will not push for the legislation, "in general, the governor supports making it more difficult for guns to end up in the wrong hands," said Michelle Byrnie, the governor's press secretary.

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