Members of a Maryland Senate committee may pretend they took a forthright stand this week against those killer Saturday Night Specials that criminals love to sport, but look again: The committee did vote down a bad bill that would have eliminated the right of people shot with these "snubbies" to sue the manufacturers and distributors -- but the senators turned around and killed two important measures that could have made serious inroads on the criminal-handgun market in Baltimore as well as elsewhere around the state. One of these perfectly reasonable bills merely would have allowed Baltimore City to write its own gun-control laws; the other would have banned the sale of Saturday Night Specials in the state, on the sensible grounds that these killer-weapons are good for nothing except crimes, woundings and killings.
The vote on a gun-victim's right to sue helps, to be sure; as always, the National Rifle (and increasingly Handgun) Association sought to promote gun sales at almost any human cost. The NRA wanted this manufacturer-protection bill to thwart a Maryland Court of Appeals finding last year that makers and sellers of these particular handguns could be held liable for injuries inflicted by the guns. The court said in its unanimous opinion that "the manufacturer or marketer of a Saturday Night Special knows or ought to know that he is making or selling a product principally to be used in criminal activity."
Nothing in that ruling directly stops the sales of snubbies, though already some gun distributors reportedly have refused to send handguns to Maryland. But this shouldn't have had to be the subject of a court ruling. Then as now, the preferable approach -- one that would eliminate any arguments about liability -- would have been to ban Saturday Night Specials outright, from parts to finished products.
Instead, a committee majority found excuses about difficulties in defining Saturday Night Specials. Committee Chairman Thomas V. Mike Miller Jr. of Prince George's, who finds all sorts of reasons to be kind to handgun traffic, said he believed the bill would put dealers of antique weapons out of business -- a concession, presumably, that neither he nor his colleagues could figure out a legislative way to protect these merchants.
The idea was to make it more difficult for criminals to buy concealable weapons -- while protecting the legitimate rifle or shotgun owner and preserving public safety for all law-abiding citizens. That's a reasonable request that the committee failed to answer this time around.