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Legislators take aim at gun proposal

February 19, 2000|By LAURA ERNDE

ANNAPOLIS - Hot-button issues such as abortion and gay rights are taking a back seat this legislative session to a debate over gun safety versus gun rights.

Maryland Gov. Parris Glendening's proposal to require that handguns be sold with safety locks has triggered an explosion of bills.

Glendening wants new handguns sold after June 2003 to be outfitted with technology that allows only their users to fire them.

Gun rights proponents are promising to resist the effort, and have introduced legislation to make it easier for people to carry concealed weapons.

The debate has also sparked a bipartisan proposal designed to get tough on criminals who carry guns.

It was clear last month in Glendening's State of the State address that his so-called smart gun idea would be a big priority this session, which runs through April 10.

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Glendening asked the Maryland General Assembly to pass anti-gun violence laws.

"I hope the children of Maryland one day will think of handguns and cigarettes as relics of a past, unenlightened age," he said in his speech.

But Glendening's proposal faces tough scrutiny by the conservative Senate Judicial Proceedings Committee.

"It's going to be really contentious. Anything could happen," said committee member Sen. Alex X. Mooney, R-Frederick/Washington.

Mooney believes Glendening's real agenda is to ban guns and said he doesn't support anything that might prevent someone from defending themselves against an attack, particularly women.

"You want to give a woman every possible defense she could have because they're often targeted by men who are stronger physically," he said.

A majority of the Washington County legislative delegation opposes smart guns, arguing the technology simply isn't available yet.

"I just think it's unfair to make any law when you don't have the technology," said Del. Louise V. Snodgrass, R-Frederick/Washington.

Del. Joseph R. Bartlett, R-Frederick/Washington, opposes the legislation, but favors the technology.

If the technology becomes available and cost-effective, he doesn't think it would infringe upon an individual's right to own a gun.

Glendening has also proposed giving the industry $3 million to research the technology.

One local lawmaker is even co-sponsoring the proposal.

Del. Sue Hecht, D-Frederick/Washington, said she wasn't sure how she felt about the issue until her 17-year-old nephew found a .22-caliber target pistol in his father's unlocked drawer. Although no one was hurt, Hecht said she realized how easy it is for children to get their hands on dangerous weapons.

"This really can happen to the average family. If we don't take these steps, what is going to motivate the manufacturer to move ahead with this technology?" she said.

On the other hand, Del. Christopher B. Shank, R-Washington, said there are better ways to promote gun safety than by abridging second-amendment rights.

"I think the public outcry throughout Maryland is that we need to punish criminals," he said.

Shank and nearly the entire local delegation is supporting Project Exile legislation.

Project Exile is modeled after a Virginia program credited with a 32-percent drop in Richmond's murder rate. Under the program, all convicted felons who are caught with a firearm are prosecuted under federal law and sentenced to a minimum of five years in a federal prison.

Mooney and Sen. Donald F. Munson, R-Washington, are co-sponsoring an effort to make it easier to carry a concealed weapon.

Currently state residents have to show a pressing need before Maryland State Police issue a carrying permit.

The bill would give police more latitude as long as the gun owner took a training course and was at least 21 years old.

In all, 46 gun bills have been filed this session. They include legislation to:

* Allow police to confiscate weapons after a protection from abuse order is requested.

* Streamline and stiffen mandatory sentences for using a firearm to commit a felony.

* Increase the penalty for unlawfully carrying a handgun.

* Give individuals a tax credit for purchasing gun locks and safes.

* Allow police to use wiretapping to investigate the unlawful sale of firearms.

* Ban guns as raffle prizes.

* Prevent the state from suing gun manufacturers without authority of the General Assembly.

* Provide a mandatory 5-year sentence for someone twice convicted of a violent crime or felony using a handgun.

* Prevent appeal judges from decreasing mandatory minimum sentences imposed in violent handgun crimes.

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