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Sheriff, chief disagree on assault weapons ban

July 28, 2004|by BRIAN SHAPPELL

shappell@herald-mail.com

As the gun control debate still rages and the expiration of a 1994 ban on assault rifles with certain attachments is pending, two of the top cops in Washington County shared differing views on the issue.

Washington County Sheriff Charles Mades does not want the Bush administration to renew any part of the ban in September.

However, Hagerstown Police Department Chief Arthur Smith said he believes any kind of federal gun restrictions should include the guns prevalent at crime scenes involving drug and gang activity.

The 1994 Assault Weapons Act made semiautomatic assault weapons illegal if they had detachable magazines and two or more of the following: a folding or telescoping stock, a pistol grip, a bayonet mount, a flash suppressor or a grenade launcher. Such features often are applied to guns such as the AK-47 and AR-15. The act is set to expire in mid-September.

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Mades said he believes the ban should not be renewed or extended for many reasons, primarily because it banned styles of guns that are not common at crime scenes in Washington County.

"Personally, we have not had any assault rifles used in any violent crimes. We didn't see a big outcry of assault rifles being used in this community," Mades said.

Mades also questioned how much of a crime deterrent such laws are because, "people are going to try to get guns to kill people, whether they're legal or not."

"The drug dealer or bad guy, whoever he is, is going to get the gun whether he breaks into the house or elsewise," he said.

Mades said he believes gun regulations should be an issue dealt with on the state or county level.

He and Smith agreed that people in communities know what's best for their own areas.

"The closer you are to the problem, the more intelligent the decision will be," Smith said. "What might not be a problem in western states should not preclude Maryland from saying, 'we've looked at this; these are things we want to control.'"

Smith, who spent 25 years with the Baltimore Police Department, said he believes a federal ban should include the "cheaply made pistols" that have become synonymous with street-level drug activity and gangs. Among those he would like to see on the banned list are handguns such as Cobrays and the Tec-9 series.

Smith said such guns were a serious problem in Baltimore during his time there.

"They are cheap, easily accessible guns that were involved in a lot of crimes," Smith said. "There are a number of weapons that really serve no useful purpose."

Still, Smith said he does not believe extending a ban on certain weapons that meet the criteria outlined by the 1994 law will infringe on the rights of law-abiding hunters and gun enthusiasts.

"I've never seen an AK-47 being used by a hunter," Smith said.

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