Glendening to ban firearms hunting in 4 metro counties

Delay in season is meant to reduce gunfire reports during search for sniper

October 16, 2002|By Candus Thomson and Kristin Sette | Candus Thomson and Kristin Sette,SUN STAFF

Determined to keep the sound of gunfire to a minimum as police hunt for the serial sniper, Gov. Parris N. Glendening will issue an executive order today banning hunting in four counties in the Baltimore-Washington suburbs.

The order is in response to a request from county executives in Montgomery and Prince George's, where seven shootings have occurred, and the adjoining jurisdictions of Anne Arundel and Howard. The ban covers all recreational shooting except at approved firing ranges and will end when the sniper is caught.

"This temporary action can save [police] valuable time as they work to bring those responsible for these terrible crimes to justice," said Glendening in a statement released by his office.

Montgomery Executive Douglas M. Duncan said that with muzzleloader season set to begin tomorrow, it was imperative to reduce the numerous citizen reports of gunfire that could distract officers working on the sniper case.

"We can't have people shooting firearms with the sniper still at large. ... If we're off chasing a hunter when the sniper is shooting, it hurts us," said Duncan as he returned from the funeral of Philadelphia businessman Kenneth Bridges, who was killed by the sniper Oct. 11 in Fredericksburg, Va.

Since the first attack Oct. 2, police have been inundated with calls from the public, including reports of gunfire. When a false alarm in Rockville last week closed the downtown area and brought hundreds of officers to the scene, Duncan said it was time to act.

"Right now, we can't spare the resources. We've got to stay focused on the mission," he said.

State Police Superintendent Col. David B. Mitchell said in an interview late yesterday that he had never heard of a similar ban on outdoor firearms in his 32 years of law enforcement.

But considering the amount of time police spend investigating every report of gunfire, Mitchell said, he supports the ruling.

"If on the weekends we're hearing reports of guns in the woods, that's tying up [police] resources," Mitchell said. "Overtime is a consideration that we're certainly aware of. ... We'll have to balance the books down the road."

State and local police will enforce the ban, but Mitchell said he is hoping hunters and others who use guns for recreational purposes will voluntarily comply.

Mitchell said state police and officials from the Department of Natural Resources have not yet decided how to treat violators.

"I believe it would be a misdemeanor type of offense that would carry a fine," Mitchell said.

"Our intent is not to have to charge anyone. What we're doing is simply saying, let's put all this on hold for now. Let's let common sense prevail."

A spokesman for Anne Arundel Executive Janet S. Owens said that although the county has been spared from the attacks, police are stretched thin as they add extra patrols, protect schools and monitor major intersections.

"It's not to alarm people. You have to look at the proximity," said Matt Diehl. "It's a prudent thing to do."

Howard County information officer Victoria Goodman said County Executive James N. Robey discussed the possibility of a ban last week with Owens and Duncan. After discussion with Howard Police Chief Wayne Livesay, Robey sent a one-paragraph letter to Glendening's office yesterday asking that Howard be included in the ban, Goodman said.

Steve Huettner, president of the 16,000-member Maryland Sportsman's Association, praised the emergency measure as "well thought-out" because it covers just those jurisdictions in the immediate area of the attacks.

"People are scared, and any noise they hear means a call to 911. If we can help eliminate some of the calls officers are being asked to respond to, we're happy to do our part," Huettner said.

But not all hunters were convinced that the executive order is necessary.

"A hunter in the woods and a sniper in suburbia are two different things," said Paul Hodder, an official with the Rockville chapter of the Izaak Walton League. "I don't see where one has anything to do with the other."

Joe Webster, a Bethesda outdoor shooting and sports advocate, said he has "very mixed feelings" about the ban. He understands that police want to cut down on 911 calls for legal gunfire, but he thinks hunters help the cause because they can watch for anything suspicious while they're outside.

He'd rather the governor ease the load on law enforcement by recruiting trackers and woodsmen for a volunteer posse than by banning their recreation. Muzzleloader season - the first season for firearms - was supposed to begin tomorrow, he said.

"I would like to do everything I could to help bring this serial murderer into custody," he said. "I'm not sure how postponing - and I hope that it's [only] a postponing - of my venison acquisition activities will help.

"If the governor's going to ban firearms discharge until the person is caught - it may be a year or two; there are cases where serial murderers are never caught," he added. "Does this mean firearm discharge in Maryland is banned forever? ... It's an extremely poor precedent to set."

Staff writers Larry Carson and Jamie Smith Hopkins contributed to this article.

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