- The Washington Times - Wednesday, January 23, 2002

ANNAPOLIS Handgun buyers in Maryland would have to be licensed, much like automobile drivers, under legislation proposed by state gun-control advocates.
Sponsors of the Handgun Accountability Act, which was introduced on Monday, said the measure would make gun owners more accountable for their weapons and help police keep guns out of the hands of criminals.
Maryland Attorney General J. Joseph Curran Jr. endorsed the measure, as did such gun-control groups as the Million Mom March, Marylanders Against Handgun Abuse and the Educational Fund to Stop Gun Violence.
"We have long understood the common sense behind licensing drivers in our state," Mr. Curran said. "Why would we do any less for those who operate deadly weapons?"
But gun rights activists say the legislation stands no chance of passage because of conflicts with the Second Amendment, which guarantees the right to bear arms.
A licensing requirement "affirms their worst fears of government control," by making gun owners ask permission from the government to own a gun, said Sen. Timothy R. Ferguson, Carroll Republican.
"You've got a lot of legal gun owners who feel that's an encroachment [on their rights] or a slippery slope," said Mr. Ferguson, who calls himself a lifetime member of the National Rifle Association.
Sen. Chris Van Hollen, Montgomery Democrat, said the proposal is modest and "doesn't prohibit anyone from getting a gun, unless they're a criminal."
"The legislation will limit the number of handguns that get in the hands of criminals, reduce gun violence and save lives," he said.
Delegate Carmen Amedori, Carroll County Republican, contends that the measure won't keep guns out of the hands of criminals, and that if it would, gun-control activists should drop their opposition to some pro-gun measures.
"Perhaps if they truly feel this is the way to combat criminals, they should have no hesitancy to give anyone who gets a license a carry permit [for a concealed weapon]," said Mrs. Amedori, who believes the state refuses permits too often.
Gov. Parris N. Glendening, a Democrat, promised two years ago that he would not support more gun laws after winning legislation that required handguns to be sold with safety locks and gun buyers to take safety training courses.
To become licensed under the new proposal, anyone who wants to buy handguns or assault-style rifles first would provide fingerprint identification and then demonstrate competency in handgun safety.
Supporters say these steps would deter illegal gun buyers and cut down on the number of fraudulent and straw purchases in which someone who can pass a background check to buy a gun purchases one for someone who cannot.
Mr. Van Hollen says that rather than a separate license, legally registered gun buyers may have stickers or some other designation added to their driver's licenses.
Gun-control advocates also are sponsoring bills to mandate reporting of stolen or lost handguns.
Other proposed legislation includes stiffening penalties for someone who stores or leaves a loaded firearm where a child can get it and making users take a certified course in safe marksmanship.
Maryland's current safety regulations require potential buyers to watch a training video before obtaining a handgun or regulated assault-style rifle.
Margie Hyslop contributed to this report.

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