Monday, June 13, 2005

BALTIMORE — Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. yesterday initiated a state program to license retired police officers to carry concealed handguns, making Maryland one of the first states to implement new federal laws expanding gun rights for retired and off-duty officers.

“This is good public policy that will make a safer state, which is why I am very proud Maryland has led,” said Mr. Ehrlich, a Republican.

Surrounded by officers from various local and state law-enforcement agencies, Mr. Ehrlich made the announcement at the Fraternal Order of Police Lodge No. 3 in Baltimore.

The setting underscored Baltimore’s high murder rate despite crime-fighting pledges by Mayor Martin O’Malley, a likely Democratic rival to Mr. Ehrlich in next year’s governor’s race.

Last week, the FBI reported that violent crime in Baltimore increased 4.2 percent to 11,667 incidents in 2004, while the numbers declined in most other cities.

Mr. O’Malley, who took office five years ago promising to lower the homicide rate, but instead watched the city become one of America’s deadliest, was not invited to yesterday’s announcement.

The mayor yesterday said he was not bothered that the governor held the event in his city. But he said Mr. Ehrlich could do more to reduce crime in the city by reforming state public safety offices such as the departments of juvenile services, parole and probation, and corrections.

“The state and the governor control many of the oars that should be in the water to bring crime under control in Maryland,” Mr. O’Malley said. “If we all could work together toward the common goal of making our state safer, we could be making progress more quickly.”

Mr. Ehrlich’s initiative buttressed the federal Law Enforcement Officers Safety Act, which President Bush signed into law last year.

The act allows retired and off-duty officers who meet certain standards to carry a concealed handgun in any jurisdiction. The weapons are barred from airplanes and in other restricted places.

A Maryland State Police database is available to police agencies in other states to identify retired officers with concealed carry permits. Retired officers must have served at least 15 years, retired in good standing and qualify annually with their weapon to receive the permit.

Thomas F. Penoza, treasurer of the national FOP, said at yesterday’s announcement that the Maryland program will be a model for other states.

Arizona and Idaho also have implemented the federal law.

Supporters say the law enhances public safety by potentially putting an armed law-enforcement professional at the scene of street crime or terrorism.

Opponents, including the International Association of Chiefs of Police, say state and local authorities should regulate who carries concealed weapons in their jurisdictions.

Leah Barrett, executive director of the gun-control group CeaseFire Maryland Inc., said allowing officers to carry a gun anywhere at any time is “essentially dangerous.”

“We have too many guns in this country and too many people carrying them,” she said. “Accidents happen.”

FOP Lodge No. 3 President Lt. Fred Roussey stressed that only experienced and trained officers can get the carry permit.

“President Bush saw a need for retired officers to carry. Now everyone is armed everywhere,” the Baltimore police lieutenant said. “Thank God our governor got behind it right out of the gate.”

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