The Friendship Heights Village Council enacted a handgun control ordinance last night, banning the weapons from all except law enforcement officers, members of the armed forces and people who use the guns for sport.
The law goes into effect immediately, providing for a fine up to $500 for possession, purchase, sale or transport of a handgun within the village boundaries. The exemption for those who use the weapons for sport requires that they obtain permits from the Maryland State Police.
"I hope this sends a message to other villages and localities that we can do something on a local level, " said Village Council Chairman Alfred Muller. "Local communities should have the right to determine what is healthiest and safest for their own community."
The seven-member council passed a similar ordinance five years ago but was told by the Montgomery County Council that state law prohibited localities from regulating handguns.
The council also passed an ordinance banning bullets, but the measure was overturned by the County Council. A similar bullet-banning measure was later passed by the County Council, but blocked by the state courts.
The Friendship Heights council contends that the banning of handguns is now legal under a state law that went into effect in July. Although that law prevents counties and municipalities from regulating handguns, rifles, shotguns, ammunition and firearms components, it allows "special taxing districts" to regulate those weapons "within 100 yards of parks, churches, schools, public buildings and other places of public assembly."
Friendship Heights is one of the five special taxing districts in Montgomery County. The village's 5,000 mostly elderly residents live in high-rise condominiums in a 32-acre, pie-shaped wedge bordered by Wisconsin Avenue, Willard Avenue and River Road south of Somerset -- an area that is almost completely within 100 yards of parks and public buildings, Muller said.
"In my view, the proposed ordinance is fully consistent with this new grant of local regulatory authority," Maryland State Attorney General Stephen H. Sachs wrote Muller earlier this month. "I strongly favor local efforts to deal with the plague of cheap handguns."
"The murder rate in this country is 10 times what it is in other countries," said Henry C. Huntley, one of several Friendship Village residents who spoke in favor of the handgun measure at last night's Village Council meeting. "It's time there was a grass-roots attempt to do something about what is probably the greatest threat to public health."
The law was enacted on a 6-to-0 vote, with council member Karel de Ubl abstaining. Ubl voiced reservations about details of the measure, and was the only person to speak who did not support it.
"Our action tonight was basically symbolic," said Muller. "We hope it sends a message to the federal government to strengthen handgun regulations, not weaken them."
He said the village would rely on county police to enforce the measure, since the village's security force is designed mainly to deal with traffic violations.