Gov. Parris N. Glendening announced yesterday that he has settled on a road map for gun-safety legislation that would make Maryland the first state in the nation to require integrated locks on all new handguns.
Glendening's proposal, which will become a major component of his legislative agenda for next year's General Assembly session, adopted all 12 recommendations from the task force he convened to help make handguns child-proof.
In addition to requiring that locking devices be built into new handguns sold after Jan. 1, 2002, the plan would mandate that weapons sold after Jan. 1, 2003, incorporate "smart gun" technology. So-called smart gun innovations, many still under development by gun manufacturers, would enable a gun to be programmed so that only its owner and other specificed users could fire it.
Manufacturers of the integrated locks say requiring their use would add $30 to $90 to the price of a handgun, depending on the make of gun and the type of locking device used.
Glendening (D) called the plan "aggressive, specific and realistic."
"This legislation will save our families, communities and police officers from more handgun deaths and violence in the future," he said yesterday in a prepared statement.
Given the strong emotions and aggressive lobbying that have surrounded gun-control initiatives in Maryland and elsewhere, some legislators are predicting a tough battle over the Glendening plan when the legislature convenes in January.
In a public hearing before the task force in September, gunmakers expressed concern about the feasibility of integrating smart gun innovations into their products within three years. The concerns prompted a revision so the plan now would require the technology only if it is "commercially available."
Del. Thomas E. Hutchins (R-Charles County), a retired police officer who sat on the task force, said "the whole package, together, will be a tough sell. There are still concerns about pushing this technology on people before it's ready."
State Police Superintendent David B. Mitchell, who headed the governor's task force, said the plan includes the option of offering financial incentives to companies that speed up development of the technology. He said the plan offered "a potential bonanza" to companies that perfect a smart gun in time for the 2003 deadline.
Mitchell also called attention to a feature of the governor's plan that requires all guns be "fingerprinted" before sale. Every time a gun is fired it leaves signature grooves on the bullet and casing that are as unique as a fingerprint. Requiring shop owners to send in a test-fired casing for each gun immediately before sale would enable the police to compile a database with entries for every new gun sold.
"This way, even if a detective doesn't recover the gun used in a crime, he could use the fingerprint on the bullet casing that could very well lead him to the shooter," Mitchell said.
Mitchell said that supporters of the proposal "aren't naive enough to believe that it will stop crime in its tracks," but that they are confident it can make a dent.
In Virginia, legislators have avoided such aggressive gun-safety measures in favor of legislation that increases penalties for felons caught using handguns and people using weapons on school grounds.
But members of the Maryland task force said they hope their restrictions not only cut crime but also reduce the number of suicides and accidental deaths involving young children and teenagers. "It is easier for a child to fire a handgun than open a bottle of aspirin," said Maryland Lt. Gov. Kathleen Kennedy Townsend (D). The plan recommended by the governor's task force takes "a significant step toward helping to stop preventable handgun deaths."
CAPTION: Maryland Gov. Parris N. Glendening said his proposal "will save our families, communities and police officers from more handgun deaths."