- The Washington Times - Wednesday, January 1, 2003

Maryland legislators say attempts by Republican Gov.-elect Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. to alter the state's strict gun laws, such as the one taking effect today that could ban the sale of most new handguns, will encounter stiff resistance in the General Assembly.

In the Senate, Mr. Ehrlich's gun proposals would have to get past Sen. Brian E. Frosh, chairman of the Judicial Proceeding Committee. Mr. Frosh, Montgomery County Democrat, was a strong supporter of Gov. Parris N. Glendening's agenda that made Maryland one of the strictest gun-control states in the nation.

The toughest opposition in the House is expected from Delegate Joseph F. Vallario, a Southern Maryland Democrat and chairman of the Judiciary Committee. He also is considered a supporter of Mr. Glendening's gun-control agenda.

House Speaker-elect Michael E. Busch, Annapolis Democrat, could also stop Mr. Ehrlich from making changes. He was a supporter of Mr. Glendening's gun-control initiatives and could use his high-ranking position to thwart proposed changes to the former governor's policies.

The fierce tenor of the gun-law debate was evident during the fall election campaign, when Mr. Ehrlich proposed reviewing the gun laws, then was lambasted by Democrats for being a pro-gun candidate intent on arming criminals.

Still, Mr. Ehrlich has not retreated from his plan to review the laws, including the ballistic-fingerprinting program, which has been criticized as ineffective and expensive.

"Governor Ehrlich will carefully review each gun law in Maryland to ensure that it is meeting its original intent," Ehrlich spokesman Henry Fawell said this week. He declined to discuss specific laws, citing the backlash during the campaign.

Mr. Busch said he thinks Mr. Ehrlich should review the laws, but said an attempt to repeal or substantially alter them would be met head-on by gun-control advocates in the General Assembly.

"I don't see that dynamic changing in the legislature," he said.

House Minority Leader Alfred W. Redmer Jr., Baltimore County Republican, agrees, saying, "Anything that Ehrlich does related to guns is going to probably face some fierce opposition by a few members of the General Assembly. However, those few members will hold key leadership positions."

Mr. Redmer said the election created a more conservative House membership more accepting of changes to gun laws. But the Democratic majority gave the leadership positions to the party's liberal wing, which will be in a position to block proposed changes.

"Committee chairs and presiding officers wield incredible power over the process," he said. "Often that is all you need to kill legislation, regardless of the amount of support it has among the members of the body."

Meanwhile, some lawmakers are planning a move to repeal the law taking effect today that mandates that new handguns sold in the state have built-in safety locks. Some major gun manufacturers, including Colt and Maryland-based Beretta, have pulled their guns from Maryland stores instead of complying with the law.

Gun dealers fear a big drop in business because fewer gun models will be available for sale. Only six new handgun models with internal locks have been approved by the Maryland Handgun Roster Board.

The repeal effort, even if Mr. Ehrlich lends his support, is not expected to succeed.

"There will probably be some attempt at repealing it, but what are the chances of the liberal House of Delegates passing that?" said conservative Sen. Alex X. Mooney, Western Maryland Republican.

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