- The Washington Times - Monday, October 21, 2002

True to form, Lt. Gov. Kathleen Kennedy Townsend, who has cynically sought to exploit the recent sniper attacks for political gain against Republican gubernatorial foe Robert Ehrlich, is already looking for someone else to blame for the latest fiasco to befall her gubernatorial campaign the revelation that Maryland this year failed to conduct background checks on hundreds of handgun buyers, mandated under the Brady Act.
Given that Mrs. Townsend (annointed by Gov. Parris Glendening as the state's crime czar) is relentlessly pounding away at Mr. Ehrlich's congressional votes against some gun-control measures and touting her own support for "common sense" regulations like background checks, the combination of hypocrisy and buffoonery involved in this nascent scandal are mindboggling.
The facts of the case, made public last week by House Judiciary Committee Chairman James Sensenbrenner, Wisconsin Republican, are as follows: For approximately six months out of this year, the Maryland State Archives refused to cooperate with the FBI in carrying out criminal background checks through the National Instant Criminal Background Check System (NICS). The deputy state archivist sent a March 12 letter to the FBI stating that the Maryland agency would no longer cooperate with NICS until it received $45,000 necessary to fund the background checks for one year.
It was not until early October that the Maryland Archives informed the FBI that it would agree to participate once again in the NICS, so long as funding from the federal government's National Instant Criminal History Improvement Program (NCHIP) was available. What Mr. Sensenbrenner would like to know a question that the Glendening-Townsend administration has failed to answer satisfactorily is how the state of Maryland spent the $6.7 million it has received from NCHIP since 1995. (The head state archivist says his agency received none of this money.)
"Are we to believe that Maryland could not find $45,000 to assist with NCIS checks? … Maryland's policy endangered lives and threatened public safety," Mr. Sensenbrenner said in a statement Tuesday, requesting that the General Accounting Office investigate Maryland's handling of the funds. "Maryland's failure affects every state because a Maryland felon might, for example, try to illegally buy a gun in Virginia. If the Maryland State Archives refuses to search its criminal history records, Maryland felons can purchase guns that they are otherwise prohibited from purchasing. It is my understanding that the state of Maryland is the only state to refuse to assist the FBI with its NICS checks."
The situation in Maryland, Mr. Sensenbrenner added, "is not tolerable given the amount of NCHIP and other federal criminal justice assistance provided to Maryland. As the point person for criminal justice matters, I expect the Lt. Governor of Maryland to fully cooperate with the General Accounting Office investigation which I am requesting today in which the GAO will completely audit Maryland's use of the NCHIP funding."
Unfortunately, the response from Mrs. Townsend, the crime czar, was more of the same stonewalling, denying any responsibility for the problem and complaining that Mr. Sensenbrenner is "playing politics" with the issue in an effort to derail her gubernatorial aspirations.
Quite simply, this is nonsense. As chairman of the Judiciary Committee, Mr. Sensenbrenner has far more important things to worry about than Mrs. Townsend's political future foremost among them the potential danger to public safety resulting from the Glendening-Townsend administration's failure to competently conduct criminal background checks.
State archivist Edward Papenfuse said his agency ran out of money to conduct the background checks. He told The Washington Post that he wrote Mr. Glendening in March requesting additional funds, but was told that none would be available until July.
All of this raises yet another question. Why didn't Senate President Mike Miller and House Speaker Casper Taylor and the legislature's oversight committees stop Maryland from refusing to cooperate with the FBI background checks? Clearly, Mrs. Townsend and much of the Democratic Party leadership have a lot of explaining to do.


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