Gun plan concerns local lawmakers

November 30, 1999|By LAURA ERNDE

Local lawmakers expressed skepticism Tuesday about Maryland Gov. Parris N. Glendening's plan to require childproof guns.

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"I'm concerned about the possibility that this is just the first step in an attempt to disarm Marylanders," said Sen. Donald F. Munson, R-Washington.

Glendening announced this week that he plans to introduce legislation next year prohibiting the sale of new handguns unless they are equipped with devices allowing them to be fired only by authorized users.

His announcement came following a report from a task force on childproof guns, which recommended requiring locking systems on new handguns sold in Maryland after Jan. 1, 2002.


The legislation is bound to be closely scrutinized by the Maryland General Assembly, said Munson, a 25-year veteran of the legislature.

The proposals fate there largely rests with the conservative Judicial Proceedings Committee.

Committee member Sen. Alex X. Mooney, R-Frederick/Washington, said he doesn't see a need for the law.

The best way to childproof a gun is to unload the gun and lock it away, and so-called "smart gun" technology is too new to be trusted, he said.

Several types of technology are being developed or are in production, including a mechanical device that will allow guns to be fired only after a four-digit code is entered, the task force report said.

"Let's hope you don't forget your code if someone's breaking into your house," Mooney said.

Researchers and manufacturers are working on several types of electronic systems, including guns that recognize a user's fingerprint to pick up a signal from a transmitter in a ring or bracelet.

The legislation proposes tax credits and grants to develop the technology.

Local lawmakers have expressed concern that the technology is simply not available.

But even if it were, some don't agree with the mandate.

"I think that should be a choice that people should have. Government can't protect people from everything," Del. Robert A. McKee, R-Washington, said recently.

Other lawmakers are taking a wait-and-see approach, including Glendening's largest supporter in the Washington County Delegation Del. Sue Hecht, D-Frederick/Washington.

Del. John P. Donogue, D-Washington, also said he would wait to see what kind of legislation, if any, comes out of committee.

Judging from a public hearing on the issue in October, public opinion in Washington County clearly goes against the requirement. Twenty-six people received great applause while speaking against childproofing guns.

But not all of the task force's recommendations are unreasonable, Mooney said.

For instance, the task force also advised requiring Marylanders to complete a gun safety course before buying a firearm, prohibiting juveniles who commit violent acts from purchasing a gun until they reach 30 and giving tax credits to encourage the purchase of gun safes and vaults.

The findings of the task force were no surprise considering most of its members were appointed by Glendening, a longtime advocate of gun control, Mooney said.

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