Maryland Gets Stiff Anti-Gun Law : Measure Creates Panel That Can Restrict Weapon Sales

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From the Washington Post

With a small army of law enforcement officials forming a grim-faced backdrop, Maryland Gov. William Donald Schaefer signed a unique gun control law Monday as supporters united for what one called “the battle ahead”--an almost certain November referendum on the issue.

Schaefer was joined by numerous legislative supporters of the bill and by law enforcement officials from four other states. James S. Brady, the inactive White House press secretary, and his wife, Sarah, whose lobbying efforts were credited by some as critical to the bill’s passage in the closing days of the General Assembly session, also were seated on the red-draped platform on the steps of the Statehouse.

Confined to Wheelchair

Brady was wounded by a handgun in the 1981 assassination attempt on President Reagan by John W. Hinckley Jr. He has been in a wheelchair since the shooting.


“What we are doing today is outlawing guns which have only one purpose--the taking of lives,” Schaefer said. “We will not settle for that in Maryland.”

The law, the first of its kind in the country, establishes a commission that will decide which handguns are legitimate for sport, law enforcement and self-protection and prohibit the manufacture and sale of all others. The intent is to rid the state of the cheap handguns known as Saturday night specials. In addition, the measure prohibits so-called “plastic guns,” weapons containing so little metal that they would not be easily detected by airport and courthouse screening devices.

Schaefer’s strong words and the ceremony at the signing were meant as a show of strength to groups opposing gun control that are collecting signatures to put the new law to a referendum in the fall. They must submit the signatures of 11,000 registered voters by the end of the month and 22,000 before the first of July to force a referendum on the issue, and “we feel real confident we’ll make it,” said Fred Griisser, chairman of the Maryland and District of Columbia Rifle and Pistol Assn., one of the groups conducting the petition drive.

Hard Fight Seen

If they are successful, the fall campaign is likely to be expensive and hard-fought, with the National Rifle Assn. and national gun control organizations joining the fray. Any statewide vote on gun control is important, both sides say, but the Maryland referendum would be particularly critical because of the state’s proximity to Washington and the effect the outcome could have on gun control efforts in Congress.

State Atty. Gen. J. Joseph Curran Jr., a longtime advocate of handgun controls, noted the law’s potential impact outside Maryland when he acknowledged the presence at the ceremony of state police officers from Virginia, West Virginia, Pennsylvania and Delaware. “I for one firmly believe this is (just) the beginning, and I’m glad to see our neighbors here,” he said.

Supporters have called the bill a reasonable compromise, but Griisser’s organization, in a letter to its members, called it “a first step toward the prohibition of all handguns and all firearms.”


And Neal Knox, a member of the Firearms Coalition, wrote his colleagues that the new commission “is intentionally stacked with anti-gunners.”

“It’s like atheists deciding where you can go to church,” he wrote.

Court Decision Voided

In order to pass the bill, gun control supporters added a provision that voided a Maryland court decision that said manufacturers of cheap handguns could be held liable by those wounded by the guns. Overturning the ruling was a priority of the NRA, and the pro-gun groups want to use the referendum to challenge all provisions of the law except that one.

But the Schaefer Administration is questioning whether that is legal. The state constitution allows for a referendum on a law or “part of a law,” but the question, according to Schaefer’s chief lobbyist, Alan Rifkin, is what happens to the rest of the law if part is overturned.