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Gun bill passes Senate

March 28, 2000|By LAURA ERNDE

ANNAPOLIS - The Maryland Senate Monday narrowly approved legislation that would require handguns sold in the state to be equipped with built-in locks.

A handful of Republicans, including Sen. Alex X. Mooney, R-Frederick/Washington, argued against the bill for about four hours before the vote, saying it was an assault on the right to bear arms.

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The Senate approved Gov. Parris Glendening's bill on a 26-21 roll call, two votes more than required for passage in the 47-member Senate. Three Republicans joined 23 Democrats in voting for the bill. It was opposed by 11 Republicans and 10 Democrats.

The proposed legislation would require all new handguns sold in Maryland beginning Jan. 1, 2003, to be equipped with a built-in locking device.

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Both Mooney and Sen. Donald F. Munson, R-Washington, voted against the measure.

The governor, who has been lobbying hard for gun control legislation this year, now is turning his efforts to gaining passage of the same proposal in the House of Delegates.

Glendening said he is working with House leaders to get the bill through the House without amendments so it will not have to go back to the Senate, where opponents might mount a successful filibuster with just two weeks left in the 2000 session.

The Senate removed Glendening's mandate for so-called "smart guns," which could be fired only by their owners.

The required locking device could be a combination lock or a one operated by a key. A "smart gun" electronic lock also would qualify.

"It's a good bill that will save lives," Glendening said of the compromise bill.

Opponents worry that it represents one small step toward a gun ban. They cited Maryland Attorney General J. Joseph Curran Jr., who has called for an outright ban on guns.

"I do think the hidden agenda is to take guns away from Marylanders," Munson said after the floor debate, during which he stayed silent.

Mooney talked for more than an hour against the bill, reading letters of opposition from gun rights advocates, including the Washington County Sportsmen's Federation.

Mooney argued that someone trying to defend against an attacker might lose precious time fumbling with a gun lock.

Glendening himself had trouble working a gun lock at a press conference last week, Mooney said.

Glendening said he sponsored the bill as a way to make guns safer and save the lives of children by reducing the number of accidental shootings.

Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller, D-Prince George's, said if the proposed law "keeps handguns out of the reach of children and saves even one child's life, this will be a success."

The bill would cost more lives than it would save by denying Marylanders access to reliable guns, Sen. Timothy Ferguson, R-Frederick, said.

Greg Costa, Maryland state liaison for the National Rifle Association, said he thinks gun opponents have a chance of derailing the bill in the House.

The Associated Press contributed to this story.

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