- The Washington Times - Wednesday, April 12, 2000

ANNAPOLIS President Clinton urged Congress and the states to follow Maryland's lead yesterday, giving his blessing to handgun-control legislation that Gov. Parris N. Glendening had wrestled with the legislature to secure.

Recalling how he had backed handgun control measures then "walked away" when he saw no support for them as Arkansas governor, Mr. Clinton said Maryland has set an example to marshal popular and political forces nationwide.

As Mr. Clinton stood in the State House and praised Maryland lawmakers for mandating external locks with every new handgun sold after September and built-in locks on all new handguns beginning in 2003, Congress continued to debate whether tougher enforcement or more laws regulating handguns and their sale are needed to curb violence.

"I hope that the United States Congress is paying attention to this event today, because every child in America deserves the protection you have given Maryland's children, and only Congress can provide that," Mr. Clinton said. "There are very few people in Congress who represent districts any tougher, any more resistant to the argument that will be made against such legislation than some of you."

In a presidential election year, and with the April 20 anniversary of the Columbine High School shootings about a week away, Democrats and Republicans are fighting to be the first to declare victory over gun violence.

Mr. Clinton's push to enact gun-control measures has been thwarted under a Republican majority in Congress, where differences between House and Senate bills remain unresolved.

Mr. Clinton, who served 12 years as Arkansas governor, never "highlighted" gun control, said Meredith Oakley, associate editor of the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette. But it was easier to back the issue as a candidate than to win support for it in the Arkansas legislature, she said.

Mr. Glendening a Democrat with the advantages of exceptional constitutional power and his party's strong majority in the legislature had to call upon unusual legislative maneuvers to gain approval for his bill.

"It marks the end of a long and hard-fought process," Mr. Glendening said. "[But] in the months to follow, I predict that ceremonies like this will take place in statehouses across the country."

The National Rifle Association, which has battled both Mr. Glendening and Mr. Clinton on their gun-control proposals, said history suggests the governor's predictions may not bear fruit.

"Back when Maryland passed one-gun-a-month legislation, they said this was going to set a national trend, and those predictions didn't turn out to be true," said NRA spokesman Jim Manown, adding that only California has followed suit.

The U.S. House of Representatives yesterday approved a bill designed to encourage states to adopt "Project Exile" programs that require at least five years in prison for gun-related crimes.

Mr. Glendening's handgun-control bill contains provisions that mandate five-year sentences for felons who have firearms and have been convicted of violent or drug crimes provisions that, on the surface, look like Project Exile, which also would apply the sentence to handgun-carrying felons convicted of any crime.

However, Maryland Republicans argue, because state law makes it possible for a three-judge panel to overturn mandatory sentences, the measure falls short of Exile.

But even as the new handgun law was signed, legislators who supported it for its aims noted that arguments over the bill were far from settled.

Many technical flaws in the bill which left advocates arguing that its "legislative intent" was enough to carry the bill despite its problems will lead to court challenges, said Delegate Dana Dembrow, a Montgomery County Democrat and lawyer who voted for the measure.

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