- The Washington Times - Thursday, February 22, 2001

ANNAPOLIS Maryland gun dealers will be able to replenish their supply of handguns albeit temporarily for the first time since a law requiring "ballistic fingerprints" went in effect Oct. 1.

But they are angry as well that the plan announced yesterday by House Speaker Casper R. Taylor Jr. and State Police Superintendent Col. David Mitchell requires state police to fire the guns and collect the shell casings rather than allowing dealers to do it themselves.

Sanford Abrams, vice president of Maryland Licensed Firearms Dealers, said "there's no state trooper looking over manufacturers' shoulders" when they fire handguns to meet the new law's requirements.

A provision requiring manufacturers to fire and forward the shell casings with any handgun shipped for sale in Maryland has resulted in a "de facto ban" on many new handguns in the state, gun dealers say. That's because only about a quarter of more than 80 makers of handguns approved for sale in Maryland have altered their plants to enable them to collect the casings.

State leaders have "taken a simple solution, added bureaucracy and made it ridiculous," Mr. Abrams said.

Mr. Abrams' group had lobbied to let dealers fire and collect the casings for 18 months to give more manufacturers time to meet the law's requirements. Instead, state police will be doing the testing, and only for the next six months.

"It doesn't pass the sniff test," said James Purtilo, editor and publisher of the gun-rights newsletter Tripwire.

The plan also requires dealers to pay a $20 fee for each gun they have state police fire. Police will hire six retired officers and dispatch them on a rotating basis around the state, where they will be available to dealers by appointment, Col. Mitchell said.

Critics said the six-month period is too short, the $20 fee isn't fair and requiring dealers to leave their shops to have the guns tested poses an unnecessary hardship.

However, it's what the state police agreed to, to ease the immediate effect of the law, a spokesman for Mr. Taylor said. The Allegany County Democrat had asked state police to find a way to ease the gun squeeze after he got complaints from his constituents in Western Maryland.

Col. Mitchell said he expects it will take about 60 days to buy gun traps and put personnel in place to begin the period.

"At the end of six months, it will be over," Col. Mitchell said. "We do not expect any extensions."

Mr. Taylor said the $20 charge should be viewed as a user fee that's small compared with the price of a $700 handgun.

He said gun dealers' contention that they need 18 months to allow a reasonable number of handgun models to become available again is "political rhetoric."

"What controls all this is the marketplace and money," Mr. Taylor said.

Other states are implementing or considering similar shell-casing requirements to create databases such as Maryland's, Mr. Taylor noted.

"Once we are no longer the entire market for this … the marketplace is going to be so attractive for any handgun manufacturer that [they'll get on board]," Mr. Taylor said.

Mr. Abrams said the interim regulations should be allowed to last until January 2003, when manufacturers also must build locking devices into handguns if they are to be sold in Maryland.

"What he's saying is political rhetoric because he couldn't get a better deal from the governor," Mr. Abrams said.

Still pending before the General Assembly is legislation offered by Delegate Kevin Kelly, Allegany County Democrat, to repeal the ballistics fingerprinting provisions.

But Mr. Taylor said he supports that provision and believes the database will be a useful investigative tool.

The Washington Times first reported in December that handgun dealers were running out of new guns to sell because manufacturers and distributors weren't willing to deal with the Maryland law.

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