An Oct. 1 Metro article incorrectly reported that a new computer commerce law taking effect in Maryland would allow a software company to reach into a customer's computer and "repossess" a product if the customer fell behind on payments. The General Assembly amended the law to eliminate that provision for individual consumers and to allow business customers to negotiate any provision for repossession with a software manufacturer. (Published 10/03/2000)

Beginning today, all handguns sold in Maryland will have to be sold with a trigger lock as Gov. Parris N. Glendening's controversial gun control law takes effect statewide.

The locks are the first step toward a requirement that new handguns sold in the state be equipped with built-in locks. That requirement will take effect Jan. 1, 2002.

Also today, gun manufacturers must begin supplying shell casings from new handguns to the Maryland State Police, which is creating a database of shells' "fingerprints," which will be used to match guns used in crimes to their owners.

The gun law is among dozens of laws--including measures governing electronic commerce, cable television late fees and legislative lobbying--that take effect today after passage by the General Assembly during this year's legislative session.

"Starting Sunday, fewer children in Maryland will be the victims of accidental shootings," said Sen. Christopher Van Hollen Jr. (D-Montgomery), who was one of the gun proposal's chief sponsors.

He acknowledged that the new law is not a panacea but insisted that it would reduce gun violence.

"Ultimately, the responsibility still lies with the gun owner," he said. "This makes it easier for a gun owner to be responsible and takes away any excuse to be irresponsible."

The law also requires a five-year prison sentence for people previously convicted of a violent crime who are caught illegally possessing a firearm, and it prohibits anyone convicted of a violent crime or felony while a juvenile from possessing a handgun until age 30. And, beginning Jan. 1, the law will require someone who wants to buy a handgun to undergo two hours of firearms safety training.

Gun rights advocates say the law will have no practical effect in Maryland. Nearly all gun manufacturers already supply trigger locks with their firearms, said Sanford Abrams, who is vice president of the Maryland Licensed Firearms Dealers Association and an operator of a Baltimore County gun shop. All that is being added, he said, is that gun dealers must supply gun locks with the used handguns they sell.

He also said that the shell casings provided to the state police probably will provide little help to investigators, because the markings on shells change over time as a gun is fired and because there will be difficulty using the casings as evidence in court since so many people will have handled them before their arriving at the state police lab. Defense lawyers will have an easy time casting doubt on whether the casings actually came from the guns involved in investigations, he said.

The ultimate goal of the gun law sponsors is to ban ownership of handguns, Abrams said.

"If they can't ban them, they want to make it as difficult and expensive as they can to prevent you from buying a gun," he said. But it's backfiring, he added. "My sales have gone through the roof compared to last year because of the fear of this law."

Also today, Maryland becomes the first state where an electronic commerce law takes effect. Lobbied for by computer giants such as Microsoft Corp., the Uniform Computer Information Transactions Act allows companies to reach into customers' computers and "repossess" a product if they fall behind on payments. And the law permits companies to send legal notices about new restrictions by e-mail without proof that the e-mail has reached its destination.

With Internet commerce expanding, software manufacturers have pushed legislatures throughout the nation to pass laws making legally binding the terms the companies set on the use of their products, even though most consumers would not know what those conditions are until after they had spent their money and read the fine print.

Another law taking effect today allows cable television companies and other businesses to charge customers late fees. The law essentially overturns a recent state Court of Appeals decision limiting those fees. Now, businesses may charge up to 10 percent of a bill or $5, whichever is greater, as a penalty for late payment.

Also as of today, the governor, legislators and other top officials will have to disclose any business transactions valued at more than $1,000 that they have with registered lobbyists in the state. Legislators balked at a proposal to ban such deals.