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2 Sides Hammer Ehrlich On Guns

"No one expected them to do miracles in Annapolis," Purtilo said. "But on administrative stuff that could have been done, they won't even listen to the gun-owning community. The heads of gun clubs and other groups have had poor access."

On the other side are those who believe Ehrlich has done too much for gun owners.

Two weeks ago, Montgomery County Executive Douglas M. Duncan (D) held a news conference outside the courthouse where the sniper trial was underway to criticize Ehrlich's position on gun laws. Sen. Robert J. Garagiola (D-Montgomery), who sponsored an assault weapons ban in the 2004 General Assembly session, said Ehrlich worked behind the scenes to kill the measure.

Duncan, who is running for governor, also aired a television ad saying Ehrlich "thinks we need more assault weapons on the street" -- a remark the governor's campaign called defamatory.

Michael Barnes, president of the Brady Campaign and Brady Center to Prevent Gun Violence, said that as a congressman, Ehrlich voted in favor of the federal assault weapons ban's repeal in 1996. Ehrlich also voted in 1999 against closing the gun show loophole, which would have required firearms sellers at gun shows to conduct background checks of prospective buyers.

Early in his term, Ehrlich's state police superintendent proposed scaling back money for a ballistic fingerprinting program. "The goal was to ship those funds to more productive areas of crime prevention activity," said Joseph Getty, who heads the governor's policy team. But that money has remained in the budget.

"Our crime and justice focus has been more around witness intimidation and tracking and punishing sex offenders," Getty said.

John H. Josselyn, legislative vice president of the Associated Gun Clubs of Baltimore Inc., which represents 27 clubs with about 4,500 members, said he has not made up his mind about Ehrlich's gun policies. Josselyn said he hopes to make it easier for law-abiding Marylanders to obtain concealed-carry permits, and the administration has sounded sympathetic.

Last month, the group hosted Ehrlich's state police superintendent, Thomas E. "Tim" Hutchins, in answering questions about how to obtain such permits. About 175 people attended.

Because so much discretion is involved in issuing a permit, Josselyn said, state police have abused their power and made it progressively more difficult for gun owners to obtain one. "They even ask permission to speak to your educational institutions," he said. "Most people don't apply because they believe they will not get the permit, and the fees are nonrefundable."

Yet criminals do not fuss with a gun permit, putting law-abiding gun owners at a disadvantage, Josselyn said. "You have the God-given right of self-defense. You are not permitted the means to exercise that right effectively."

State police spokesman Greg Shipley said Josselyn was issued a concealed-carry permit in February 2005 that expires in August 2007.

Purtilo saw Josselyn's seminar as a "sham" to round up support for the governor, who, some say, has otherwise let the gun rights community down.

"Bob is a personable guy," Purtilo said of the governor. "His staff is a bunch of knee breakers. Their phrase is, 'Where are you going to go?' They believe they have our support no matter what they do."

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