Proposal tackles law on gun locks

Miller's plan would drop state's requirement for internal mechanisms

March 01, 2004|By Kimberly A.C. Wilson | Kimberly A.C. Wilson,SUN STAFF

State Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller wants to loosen Maryland's pioneering gun-lock requirement, a measure enacted four years ago over the objections of Italian gun-maker Beretta, which has a U.S. headquarters in Miller's district.

A bill introduced by Miller would allow gun manufacturers to sell weapons in the state without the internal locking mechanisms required by the Responsible Gun Safety Act of 2000, a change hailed by gun dealers and bemoaned by the state's gun control advocates.

"We were against it from the beginning, because careless gun owners will be careless with or without a lock," said Sanford M. Abrams, proprietor of Valley Gun in Parkville.

One the other side, Leah Barrett, executive director of CeaseFire Maryland, worries that passage of the bill "would gut a huge part of the gun safety act."

The gun law, signed by Gov. Parris N. Glendening with President Bill Clinton in attendance, was the first in the nation to require manufacturers to equip their handguns with built-in locks. Another groundbreaking provision of the law required firearms makers to provide "ballistic fingerprint" information about each handgun to the state police to help them solve crimes.

Senate Bill 547 is set to be considered Wednesday, but its fate could intertwine with another Senate gun bill, which is aimed at enacting a state ban to go into effect when the federal assault weapons ban expires in September.

"My bill has been overshadowed by the assault weapons bill," said Miller, a Democrat who represents Calvert and Prince George's counties. "Liberals don't really care for it. The pro-gun people like it, but not enough to see it wedded to an assault weapons ban."

Del. Neil F. Quinter, a Howard County Democrat who introduced the House version of the assault weapons ban, said conventional wisdom suggested that Miller's bill and the ban might cross paths.

"The fear has been for a while that the Beretta bill would be the cost of advancing the assault weapons legislation. Now it may be the vehicle for advancing the assault weapons legislation," said Quinter, adding that he supports "a compromise to allow Beretta time to comply [with the safety act of 2000] in order to get a state assault ban in place."

Current law requires internal locks in all new handguns sold in Maryland. Guns with the locks - typically made of a set screw installed flush in the gun that is opened and closed with a tool - can be found on Abrams' shelves, stamped with the names of manufacturers such as Smith & Wesson of Massachusetts, Taurus International of Florida, and Springfield Armory of Illinois.

But Valley Gun hasn't sold a Beretta in nearly a year, because the Accokeek-based manufacturer hasn't produced models with the required locking mechanisms.

"We ran out of the ones that were available before the law went into effect on Jan. 1, 2003," said Abrams. "Officers, security guards, merchants, just average people, we just have to turn them away. `Sorry, I don't have any compliant Berettas to sell to you.'"

Maryland State Police and Montgomery County officers made up a large segment of Beretta's in-state market. Those officers are required to carry Beretta 9000s when working off-duty, but can no longer buy them because the company is not compliant, Abrams said.

"It injures other gun manufacturers that aren't compliant, but there's only one Maryland manufacturer of firearms and that's Beretta. They're losing sales and losing money - and I don't think they had that in mind when they enacted the law," Abrams said. "It's an unintended consequence."

CeaseFire Maryland's executive director was unmoved.

"I think Miller's trying to do a constituent a favor, but it's going to harm Maryland for many, many years," said Barrett. "It's just not worth it."

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