The campaign between Baltimore Mayor William Donald Schaefer and state Attorney General Stephen H. Sachs for the Democratic gubernatorial nomination heated up today as the two men sparred over how the state should handle gun control.
The dispute, which emerged in the wake of hearings on bills that would ban the sale of cheap handguns and give Baltimore the power to enact its own gun laws, centered on Schaefer's willingness to address the issue.
Baltimore State's Attorney Kurt Schmoke, in an interview, said he was "outraged" that Schaefer had taken no position on the bill giving Baltimore its own gun control powers. Schmoke, a Sachs supporter who until recently has stayed aloof from gubernatorial politics, said that Schaefer is "simply not showing leadership."
"People who traffic in those weapons are simply trafficking in human misery," said Schmoke. "We've got two levels of crime in this state; Baltimore city and everybody else."
Schaefer, in a campaign swing in Salisbury, labeled the bill sponsored by state Sen. Nathan Irby (D-Baltimore) "a political gimmick" with little chance of passage and suggested that Schmoke spend less time criticizing him and "more time prosecuting criminals."
Schaefer said that the legislation sponsored by Irby is a "simplistic" response to a complex social problem better addressed by a comprehensive effort that should include more aggressive law enforcement, tougher sentences for criminals who use guns and a "uniform state law on gun control."
Sachs, however, called on Schaefer to use his "personal and political influence in Annapolis" to lobby for the gun control bills. "It is hard to believe -- and I don't believe -- that the mayor gives a damn about gun control if he won't lift up a telephone and tell the chairman of the committee so."
State Sen. Thomas V. Mike Miller Jr. (D-Prince George's), the chairman of the committee that held a public hearing on the bills last week, said today that he believes gun control should be enacted statewide, not for a single jurisdiction.
"We're state legislators," said Miller, a Schaefer supporter who said even a call from the mayor would not change his mind. "Laws involving handguns should be the same in Baltimore city as they are in Prince George's County as they are in Worcester County."
"Steve Sachs knows that," he added. "That's the reason I'm particularly concerned about his comments."
The issue of gun control in Baltimore has become highly charged in recent months because of a wave of gun-related violence in the city's streets and, in some cases, its schools.
Although Schaefer said today that he is in favor of reducing the availability of handguns on the street, he said he does not endorse restrictions on the ownership of rifles for hunting purposes or of handguns for home protection.
The Mayor's Coordinating Council on Criminal Justice, however, has drafted a letter of support for Irby's bill. But Irby, informed of the mayor's Eastern Shore comments today, responded: "That killed the bill."
"I understand his position," Irby said. "He's a statewide candidate. The gun lobby are pretty tough people."