Gun control bills supported as tools for law enforcement

Opponents tell Senate measures unnecessary

February 28, 2003|By Ivan Penn | Ivan Penn,SUN STAFF

Making her second impassioned plea for tougher gun control laws, the mother of one of last fall's sniper victims appeared before a Senate committee yesterday and described the pain of losing her son to gun violence.

Sonia Wills, the mother of slain Montgomery County bus driver Conrad Johnson, urged the Senate Judicial Proceedings Committee to support three measures that would require reporting of lost or stolen handguns, expand ballistic fingerprinting to include all firearms and ban all assault-style weapons such as the one allegedly used by the snipers to kill her son.

"I am in Annapolis again today because I am still outraged," Wills said. "Conrad believed that life should be enjoyed, not feared."

This month, Wills joined Montgomery County police Chief Charles A. Moose and gun control advocates for a news conference announcing the legislation. She returned yesterday to testify on behalf of the bills, which are facing strong opposition in the committee and from gun enthusiasts.

Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. has said he would consider legislation that he believes would have an impact on reducing gun violence - but would oppose any measure that seemed more political than a solution to the problem. He has generally opposed increasing restrictions on law-abiding gun owners.

Some law enforcement officials supported the three bills under consideration yesterday.

Requiring gun owners to report their lost or stolen handguns within 48 hours after discovering their disappearance would help police better track weapons and avoid charging innocent people, these officials said. Ballistic fingerprinting would allow investigators to match a specific weapon to a crime.

"It's about providing law enforcement with the tools they need to enforce the law in the 21st century," said Joe Vince, a former special agent for 28 years with the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives. "Law enforcement needs technology to do their work."

Gun control advocates testified that assault-style weapons serve no purpose other than to kill people, which should lead lawmakers to ban their use by the general public.

But several pro-gun organizations urged the committee to reject the proposals, arguing that Maryland has some of the nation's toughest gun control laws. They said such requirements as reporting lost or stolen guns are an attempt to further regulate law-abiding gun owners.

"I'm concerned that the next step will be to ban my hunting rifle," said Sen. Larry E. Haines, a Carroll County Republican and committee member.

In written testimony, the Associated Gun Clubs of Baltimore Inc. and the Maryland Licensed Firearms Dealers Association Inc. criticized the legislation as lacking any ability to prevent gun violence.

Ehrlich and the gun enthusiasts said they favor Project Exile - a program used in Richmond, Va., that gives mandatory sentences to criminals who violate gun laws - as a way to curb gun violence.

In Annapolis

Today's highlights

11 a.m.Senate meets, Senate chamber.

11 a.m.House of Delegates meets, House chamber.

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