LIKE THEIR law enforcement counterparts all over the country, Maryland's state and local police have strong professional as well as personal reasons for urging that military-style assault weapons be taken off the civilian market. To underscore their strong sentiments, they conducted a demonstration at a firing range this week for state legislators and Gov. William Donald Schaefer, who watched as one police officer fired more than two dozen bullets in a few seconds. Another officer pulled out a weapon from under his coat to show how easily it could be concealed. A third officer snapped a bayonet onto a weapon. Still others displayed a half-dozen weapons that they had confiscated, including some that could be readily equipped with silencers as well as bayonets.
"Killers, killers," Gov. Schaefer called the weapons. "These guns should be outlawed. There is no question this should be done." There is, of course, the predictable smoke screen of questions raised by leaders of the National Rifle Association and various affiliates. They argue that the Second Amendment guarantees the right of people to get their hands on almost anything with a trigger, and they argue that since Maryland has yet to be the scene of the kind of assault-weapon horrors that have terrified, wounded and murdered people elsewhere in recent years, there is no reason to ban these firearms.
Besides, they say, the difference between the semi-automatic pistols and hunting rifles used for sport and weapons that would be banned is cosmetic only. To this the governor replied, "How you can say this is just a hunting gun with some cosmetic things on them, I don't know. I don't know if you have to go around bayonetting deer and squirrels." What he and legislators concerned about public safety seek to ban are certain semi-automatic weapons that are built with military-style features and are capable of holding high-capacity magazines. As Baltimore County Police Col. Leonard Supenski remarked, "Every wannabe Rambo with a problem is attracted to these." These weapons, he continued, are "a magnet for society's malcontents. These are anti-personnel weapons. It's not something you'd find in a duck blind."
Let's hope not. But police are finding them in the criminal world. More and more lawmakers are finding them unnecessary on the civilian market. There are plenty of weapons that will do the sporting jobs. These, too, are coming into the wrong hands too easily. With uniform national safeguards against quickie purchases to anybody with the money -- and laws to protect children from easy access to loaded weapons -- Marylanders, including legitimate gun owners and collectors, would be better off.