- The Washington Times - Tuesday, March 19, 2002

ANNAPOLIS Gun-control advocates will try to turn a gun-rights bill into new gun-control measures when the legislation is debated in the House floor of the Maryland General Assembly this week.

The bill was intended to restore gun rights to law-abiding Marylanders such as former Citizen of the Year Donald G. Arnold of Baltimore who lost them when Attorney General J. Joseph Curran Jr. told state police that the law requires the seizure of guns from people on record with old, minor misdemeanor convictions.

"The proponents believe they have some reasonable ideas, and so do we, and we want to be sure both sides of the conversation are heard," said Eric Gally, a lobbyist for Marylanders Against Handgun Abuse.

Amendments to be offered could include a wide array of gun-control measures, such as a handgun licensing bill that would require gun buyers to have background checks and be fingerprinted at a police station.

Action on the bill was deferred until tomorrow after a lawmaker posed questions about a flier circulated by opponents. The flier suggested that convicts who had served 20 or more years could get guns if the bill were approved.

House Judiciary Committee Chairman Joseph F. Vallario Jr. told members of the House that was not the case.

The Judiciary Committee revamped a bill Thursday that would have restored the right to have firearms to people convicted of misdemeanor assault if they had been sentenced to less than six months and had kept a clean record for 10 years afterward.

The committee approved a watered-down bill that would restore gun rights only to persons convicted in a single incident, and only if they served no time, or served 30 days or less, and 10 years had passed since the end of the sentence.

Neither bill would restore gun rights to anyone convicted of second-degree assault after 1996 the year Maryland switched from common-law to statutory definitions. Second-degree assault includes such minor offenses as an unwanted slap on the back.

Delegate Kevin Kelly, an Allegany County Democrat and the lead sponsor of the measure, said he couldn't muster enough support to address post-1996 offenses this session.

Mr. Gally said gun-control advocates haven't reviewed the amended bill but are concerned that it could put guns back in the hands of domestic abusers and other potentially dangerous persons.

He said they are trying to find out how many people convicted in Maryland for minor offenses were charged with more serious ones but then plea-bargained for the lower charge.

Even some gun-rights advocates have been reluctant to push pro-gun bills in Maryland for fear that in a state with some of the toughest gun-control laws in the nation the effort could backfire and become the vehicle, via amendments, for added gun control.

The Senate Judicial Proceedings Committee wasted little time last week in voting down virtually every gun-related bill it heard.

Walter M. Baker, Eastern Shore Democrat and the conservative committee's chairman, even asked pro-gun witnesses at hearings last week why they were testifying so long.

"I told you what I was going to do with these bills," he said.

Sources said legislative leaders had planned to kill all gun bills this session.

That was until lawmakers learned that state police were seizing guns and refusing gun permits and purchases to persons they had checked and approved previously.

Behind the change in policy was Mr. Curran's stringent, and some say over-reaching, interpretation of state and federal gun laws.

House Speaker Casper R. Taylor Jr., Allegany County Democrat, joined Mr. Kelly in pushing legislation to stop state police from disqualifying Marylanders who had been law-abiding gunowners for years.

Because of such minor offenses as disorderly conduct, thousands of unsuspecting Maryland gunowners could be disqualified from have a gun under Mr. Curran's interpretation and might additionally be subject to a mandatory five-year penalty for illegally possessing a gun, said Mr. Taylor and co-sponsor Delegate Dana Dembrow, a Montgomery County Democrat who has supported gun control.


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