- The Washington Times - Friday, December 29, 2000

Maryland officials said yesterday that alternate means could be established for collecting shell casings to serve as a "ballistic fingerprint" for all new handguns sold in the state.

Gov. Parris N. Glendening likely would support having state police establish other procedures if they meet the intent of creating a ballistic database for handguns, said the governor's spokesman, Mike Morrill.

As The Washington Times reported this week, Maryland gun dealers say the shell-casing provision has nearly depleted inventories of new handguns in the state because many manufacturers aren't collecting the fired casings as required by the law that went into effect Oct. 1.

Maryland Attorney General J. Joseph Curran Jr. said yesterday that state police have the authority to establish other procedures to allow guns to be sold.

Mr. Curran was responding to a letter from Maryland House Speaker Casper R. Taylor Jr. asking whether interim measures could be taken to alleviate a supply crunch.

In that letter, Mr. Taylor told the attorney general he was "frustrated by the lack of a definitive, written answer" to questions posed by gun dealers around the state.

"Confusion as to whether it is the State Police or the Attorney General's Office that should provide a definitive written policy statement on this matter has led to a number of rumors of a 'de facto ban' on the sale of many legal handguns in this state," Mr. Taylor wrote in his letter to the attorney general.

Some of that confusion was apparent in two letters sent by Assistant Attorney General Mark H. Bowen to Southern Maryland Firearms owner Thomas R. Bennett of Leonardtown.

In the first letter, dated Sept. 22, Mr. Bowen stated: "If the manufacturer fails to provide a shell casing with the weapon, however, it is the position of the Maryland State Police that a dealer may lawfully sell or transfer a handgun without forwarding a shell casing."

But one week later and two days before the law went into effect Mr. Bowen sent Mr. Bennett another letter reversing his earlier statement.

"Upon further consultation, I find that my understanding was in error," Mr. Bowen wrote. "It is the position of the Maryland State Police that a handgun shipped to a manufacturer after October 1, 2000, may not be sold in Maryland if the manufacturer did not include a shell casing."

But many gun makers unsure about altering their operations to comply with a law they say is vague directed their distributors not to ship handguns to Maryland after Sept. 30.

Since then, state police have entered markings from about 115 shell casings, with identifying information about the gun and its purchaser, into a new database they will search for matches to solve crimes.

Mr. Taylor, who had not received Mr. Curran's letter, said late yesterday he would pursue the matter with state police.

"I'm not going to be satisfied until I get it resolved. I sincerely hope that we're not playing a 'pass the buck' game here," he said.

"The spirit of the law that we passed was gun safety and not a gun ban. As things stand right now, without this issue being resolved, we have a de facto gun ban," Mr. Taylor said.

In his letter to the speaker, Mr. Curran said a de facto ban on possession or sale of handguns was not the law's intent.

If there is a problem, state police have the authority "to resolve the issue of whether a dealer may sell a handgun when a manufacturer has neglected or disregarded its duty to furnish a shell casing for a handgun," the letter says.

Mr. Taylor had asked if state police could fire weapons and retain shell casings or authorize dealers to provide the casings test fired from guns.

While the law requires manufacturers to pack casings with guns, Deputy Attorney General Carmen Shepard said it does not prohibit state police from authorizing some other method of complying with the law.

"Is there a problem? Is there a problem that can be effectively addressed by some alternative procedure? Can you do it while still safeguarding the law enforcement purposes of the law? Those are all very substantial questions," Miss Shepard said.

State police administer the law, and it is up to them to answer those questions, she said.

There was no immediate response yesterday from state police on what they would do in view of Mr. Curran's letter.

State officials said they believe more gun makers soon will be collecting casings so their guns can be sold in Maryland.

Gun maker Glock has made a deal with North Carolina-based distributor Arrington that should send new Glock handguns to Maryland for sale in three weeks, according to Glock Vice President Paul Jannuzzo.

In exchange for exclusive rights to distribute Glocks to Maryland dealers, Arrington has agreed to fire the guns and ship a casing to the state.

Mr. Taylor applauded Glock's approach to solving the problem.

Mr. Morrill said that, although some technical revisions to the law may be needed, "this needs to shake out a bit. There may be a market solution and that's better than regulation."

Mr. Curran issued a report last year calling for an end to selling handguns in Maryland, but neither legislators nor Mr. Glendening have rallied to his proposal.

• This article is based in part on wire service reports.

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