Ehrlich defends gun stance

GOP worries shootings will make issue key with Montgomery Co. voters

October 06, 2002|By Tim Craig | Tim Craig,SUN STAFF

Campaigning in a community unnerved by a string of fatal shootings, Republican gubernatorial candidate Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. was forced to defend his stance on gun control during a visit to Montgomery County yesterday.

At one point, he got into a heated exchange with a Bethesda attorney who demanded to know how the candidate could justify his view that more gun control laws are unnecessary.

"Do you have any desire to keep people from getting rifles so they can go out and hunt people?" Abbe Jolles, 47, asked Ehrlich at a youth soccer game in Gaithersburg. "We've got too many guns out there - why can't you take that position? People are getting a hold of guns and shooting at us."

Ehrlich replied, "I've got a 3-year-old son. You don't think I care about that? ... We believe there are 300 gun laws on the books, and those laws should be fully enforced."

The exchange highlights the high emotion in the Washington suburb since five people in the county were killed by a sniper late last week. Some Republicans are concerned that gun control could become the dominant issue in Montgomery County, where Ehrlich says he must do well to be elected.

"It worries me because they pound on the issue all the time in this state," said Bill Rauser, 55, a Republican. "This state is so liberal that I think the mindset is that gun control works."

Even before last week's shootings, polls showed that Montgomery County voters - who make up one-sixth of the state's electorate - favor stricter gun laws, including an outright ban on handguns.

Ehrlich contends that the focus should be on criminals, not guns. He has also said that as governor he would review state gun control laws to see if they are working - a stance that has led some to charge that he wanted to weaken the laws.

"We should look to see if the programs are working," he reiterated yesterday. "We should talk to the police and figure out what is working and what is not working."

Lt. Gov. Kathleen Kennedy Townsend, the Democratic nominee for governor, has been reminding voters that as a congressman, Ehrlich voted in 1996 to repeal the federal ban on assault weapons, and in 1988 as a state legislator against a ban on cheaply made guns, referred to as "Saturday Night Specials."

Ehrlich cautioned yesterday that Townsend should not try to politicize the recent slayings.

"Anyone who would use the shootings as a political issue is sick," he said.

However, the Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence and the Million Mom March are jointly airing an issue advocacy television ad in Montgomery County attacking Ehrlich's position on gun control. The ads began airing Monday and the groups decided not to pull them off the air after the shootings.

Rep. Constance A. Morella, a Montgomery County Republican, said the attacks on Ehrlich's gun control views are working in that county.

"Even though he said he would not change these laws ... it was just not worded in a way that really stuck," said Morella, a gun control advocate.

Ehrlich says he plans to spend a lot of time in Montgomery answering voters' questions on his gun control stance.

Sun staff writer Sarah Koenig contributed to this article.

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