- The Washington Times - Tuesday, April 4, 2000

ANNAPOLIS The House of Delegates approved Gov. Parris N. Glendening's landmark gun-control initiative by an 83-57 vote last night, but not before delegates had their say about having Democratic leaders pressure them to pass a flawed Senate bill and reject changes many agreed would improve it.

"We can't stop illegal products, so we go after legal products," said House Democratic Whip George W. Owings III. "What we have done is we've said 'no' to persons with disabilities, police, armored car guards.

"We're so concerned about gun safety that if we don't pass the gun bill the tax credit [for gun safes and locks] disappears," said Mr. Owings, who represents Calvert and Anne Arundel counties.

His remarks echoed frustrations even some Democrats expressed over the political maneuvers used to push through a bill widely acknowledged as flawed in several aspects including its treatment of adults who have certain offenses on their juvenile record and lack of exemptions for people who are unable to use two hands to operate the built-in locks that will be required on new handguns sold after 2002.

The bill also will require buyers to purchase external safety locks with all new handguns sold beginning Oct. 1.

During almost 2 and 1/2 hours of debate last night, legislators rejected 10 amendments Democratic leaders feared would kill the bill by sending it back to the Senate with little time left before the legislative session ends on Monday.

The Responsible Gun Safety Act of 2000, which the Senate approved March 27 on a 26-21 vote, now goes to the desk of Mr. Glendening, who is eager to sign it.

"This bill will take a giant step toward creating safer communities not just in Maryland but across the country," Mr. Glendening said. He predicted that within 18 months six to 12 states will move forward on similar legislation. "I predict that it will be almost impossible for gun makers to manufacture guns without internal safety locks. The liability simply will be too great," he said.

President Clinton called Mr. Glendening and Lt. Gov. Kathleen Kennedy Townsend less than 30 minutes after the vote to congratulate them. The president said Maryland's success will inspire other states.

Mr. Clinton told Mrs. Townsend he thought the vote would ease the pressure on gun maker Smith & Wesson. Many retailers have threatened to stop selling the company's products, angry that to stop lawsuits, the company entered an agreement with federal authorities to incorporate as-yet-undeveloped safety technology on their guns.

The strategy Democratic supporters implemented last night on the floor mirrored that carried out in the House Judiciary Committee, which voted Friday to move the bill to the House floor.

"I think there's one thing we should learn from this," Delegate Kenneth Montague, Baltimore Democrat, told fellow Judiciary Committee members then. "When we have the opportunity to write our own bill, we should take it. I hope we never have to go through the situation [again] when all the good ideas expressed cannot be incorporated."

Yet the vote split largely along rural vs. urban lines, with delegates from Western and Southern Maryland and the Eastern Shore generally opposing the bill and those from the Washington-Baltimore corridor supporting it.

Several Baltimore County Democrats joined rural legislators in opposing the bill.

The only Republicans who voted for the bill were Delegates Jean Cryor and Richard LaVay, both of Montgomery County. In the Senate, the only Republicans supporting the bill were from Montgomery and Prince George's counties.

Those Republicans apparently agreed with House Democratic Leader John A. Hurson of Montgomery County who said: "We have more to do … but we also need this bill."

Mr. Hurson urged legislators to join Massachusetts which, by regulation yesterday, mandated trigger locks on all new guns to help the nation in "turning the corner" on gun safety.

Mr. Owings is not the only ranking Democrat put in a tough position by the power wielded by the governor, a fellow Democrat especially in the final days of the session.

As chairman of the Judiciary Committee, Joseph F. Vallario Jr., a longtime foe of mandatory sentences, found himself in the unlikely position yesterday of having to defend five-year terms for anyone caught possessing a handgun who has already been convicted of a crime of violence or drug possession.

Mr. Vallario delayed action on a House bill that also contained Mr. Glendening's proposal.

That left his committee on Friday, with just 10 days before the session ends, few alternatives to keep the Glendening initiative alive but to consider the Senate bill and, as House leadership requested, to pass it without any change.

"The governor said we had to report out a clean bill," said Delegate Anthony O'Donnell, a Republican representing Calvert and St. Mary's counties. "Why? Because he wants to foist his executive power onto this legislative body. We have three branches of government."

Most Democrats called the bill a flawed but necessary "safety measure."

Most Republicans said it was an incursion against law-abiding persons' rights to own guns.

"It's not a slippery slope, it's an avalanche," said Delegate Carmen Amedori, Carroll County Republican.

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