- The Washington Times - Wednesday, March 29, 2000

ANNAPOLIS Maryland Gov. Parris N. Glendening's gun-control bill would essentially do nothing, because its mandate for integrated locks on new handguns is already met by current safety devices, some Democratic lawmakers said yesterday.

Mr. Glendening's bill would require that all handguns sold in Maryland by 2003 include a built-in "mechanical safety device … designed to prevent the handgun from being discharged unless the device has been deactivated."

"That is nothing more than a 'safety' " a toggle switch that can be turned on or off by anyone, said Delegate Dana Dembrow, Montgomery County Democrat.

According to Iris Birenbaum, administrator of Maryland's Handgun Roster Board, safeties are already standard equipment on about 90 percent of all semiautomatic handguns now approved for sale in Maryland.

Most revolvers legal for sale in Maryland are "double action," requiring a prolonged, strong pull on the trigger to fire the weapon.

And while the top legislative deputy to Attorney General J. Joseph Curran Jr. was arguing that legislative intent rather than exact wording would carry the measure, proponents were rallying with Mr. Curran in front of the State House, urging its passage to "make a difference."

Doubts about the bill's language put lawmakers in a dilemma.

Many supporters fear that if the House amends the legislation to correct or clarify the criteria for built-in locks, the bill would not clear the Senate again before the General Assembly adjourns April 10.

The House Judiciary Committee is expected to hold a hearing on the Senate bill Friday, but Chairman Joseph F. Vallario Jr., Prince George's Democrat, said he did not expect the committee to vote until next week. That would leave scarcely a week to resolve any disagreements between the House and the Senate over the bill.

Mr. Dembrow plans to offer an amendment specifying that the integrated locks require a key or a combination or other comparable or superior operator-identifying technology intended to restrict access.

Without such an amendment, the bill would represent no more than a "small step forward" because only a few handgun models don't have a safety, Mr. Dembrow said.

"Dana is a lawyer's lawyer and, in my opinion there are some challenging technical issues," said House Democratic Whip George W. Owings III, who represents Calvert and Anne Arundel counties.

But Mr. Glendening is casting his lot with Assistant Attorney General Robert Zarnoch, who last night released a letter advising legislators that the bill refers to "more sophisticated gun-safety technology … not to common existing safety features such as lateral safety levers and grip safety devices."

The Senate bill refers to "a disabling or locking device" that is "designed to prevent the handgun from being discharged unless the device has been deactivated."

Mr. Zarnoch cited the recommendations of a legislative task force as well as debate on the Senate floor last week as evidence that "legislative intent" would mandate more than a common safety lever or grip.

He also cited several Maryland Court of Appeals decisions to argue that case law shows the "governing principle" in interpreting a statute is to meet the legislature's 'broad goal or purpose.' "

Mr. Curran has called for banning all civilian ownership of handguns.

Mr. Dembrow and Mr. Owings and many opponents of the bill said the problem is that many lawmakers responsible for approving the Senate bill did so not knowing enough about guns, how they are made or how they work.

"This is a source of frustration for [me] and many on the House Judiciary Committee," where the bill will be considered before it can go to the House floor, Mr. Dembrow said.

No one had offered to show the committee gun locks, he said, until he called the Maryland-National Capital Park Police last week to ask for a demonstration after that agency announced its officers would start using Saf T Lok brand magazine locks when they store their handguns.

Mr. Owings said the real problem is that the bill's advocates are driven by emotional reaction to tragic incidents rather than facts and figures about how many and how most gun deaths occur.

"More kids are killed by matches and drowning," but no one is trying to pass legislation against lighters and pools, Mr. Owings said.

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