- The Washington Times - Tuesday, July 30, 2002

A National Rifle Association spokesman says Maryland state Sen. Timothy Ferguson is misleading constituents with claims that he led the fight against landmark gun-control legislation.

The NRA's Greg Costa, an association lobbyist, said he had lined up enough votes to mount a filibuster against one of the most restrictive gun-control measures in the nation when Mr. Ferguson, a Republican who represents Carroll and Frederick counties, announced minutes before the critical vote that he had cut a deal with Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller Jr. and other Democrats not to delay the vote.

"I was dumbfounded," Mr. Costa said. "I said 'You're bringing us nothing and giving up the fight.'"

Among other things, the law mandates state-regulated training for anyone who purchases a gun and ballistics markings for all handguns sold in Maryland.

As of next year, it requires built-in locks on all new handguns sold in Maryland.

As a point man for Republicans and gun-rights supporters during negotiations over the bill, Mr. Ferguson succeeded in adding a few more restrictive provisions to the bill, including one that put two engineers on a review panel that must approve a handgun before it may be sold legally in Maryland.

Mr. Miller said Mr. Ferguson offered to work against a filibuster if his amendments were added.

"His proposals made the bill more palatable to some [and] his support put a huge dent in the opposition," said Mr. Miller.

The dispute could hurt Mr. Ferguson, who is facing two challengers in the Republican primary including Delegate David Brinkley, a respected member of the House from Frederick County who has compiled a record as a gun-rights supporter and garnered NRA support.

Mr. Costa said the NRA seldom endorses candidates in primary races and that it has not decided what to do in this contest.

When the gun bill cleared the Senate, Mr. Ferguson said the engineers would ensure that no citizen would be left relying on a faulty gun that wouldn't work in a life-threatening situation.

Mr. Costa said the provision has done nothing "but require one more vote to get a gun approved."

Mr. Ferguson defended his role in shaping the Gun Safety Act of 2000 in a campaign letter to gun-rights supporters. In it, he tells them he has been the target of "innuendo" that accuses pro-gun legislators of not standing up against the bill.

"The best we could do was ensuring the deletion of the 'Smart Gun' provisions and we did," Mr. Ferguson said in the campaign letter.

Mr. Ferguson did speak out against the Smart Gun mandate across the state, spreading the word, along with gun manufacturers, that the technology was still very limited and unreliable. But the Smart Gun provisions had been cut out of the bill before Mr. Ferguson made his offer, Mr. Miller said.

Mr. Costa agrees that some kind of new gun-control measure was going to be approved in the Democrat-dominated legislature.

But Mr. Costa said that, without a filibuster, gun-rights supporters did not get a chance to see "what the battlefield looked like" or whether the other side might "panic and give us something."

"I don't consider it a compromise when we give up a fight and get nothing in return," he said.

James Purtilo, publisher of the gun-rights newsletter Tripwire whom Mr. Ferguson named in his campaign letter as one who had unfairly maligned him said he believes Mr. Ferguson capitulated because "he just wanted to go home."

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