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Md. Votes Built-In Locks for Handguns

Gunlock, AP
  The decision in Maryland to require gun locks on all new handguns gives a boost to national gun control efforts. (Richard A. Carioti - AP)

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By Daniel LeDuc
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, April 4, 2000; Page A01

The House of Delegates voted last night to make Maryland the first state in the nation to require built-in locks for all new handguns, handing Gov. Parris N. Glendening a major political victory and, advocates said, giving national gun control efforts a significant boost.

The 83 to 57 vote at 9:46 p.m. came after nearly three hours of debate, with gun enthusiasts packing the gallery to cheer and applaud legislators who attacked the proposal.

The Senate passed the legislation Friday, and Glendening (D) said he will sign it soon. Beginning Oct. 1, all new handguns sold in the state would have to come with separate trigger locks, and after Jan. 1, 2003, all new handguns would have to have a built-in lock.

"It's a very significant step forward for public safety," said Joseph Sudbay, political director of the advocacy group Handgun Control. "It once again puts Maryland in the forefront."

Approval of the legislation darkened a day already made gloomy for groups defending gun ownership. New consumer safety rules that took effect in Massachusetts ban cheap handguns, mandate that serial numbers be made more difficult to alter, require safety warnings on handguns, and require that those guns be equipped with locks designed to prevent unauthorized use. [Details, Page A15.]

Maryland lawmakers approved the requirements for handguns despite some misgivings about some aspects of the legislation, including questions about whether it would force the opening of sealed juvenile criminal records and whether the language of the proposal, which had been hastily rewritten in the Senate, actually mandated the built-in locks. Some gun control proponents argued that a simple safety, now found on many handguns, could meet the requirements of the bill.

The National Rifle Association's Maryland lobbyist, Greg Costa, said that "this bill is so poorly written that there's debate among even gun control advocates who say it doesn't do what they want it to do. [Glendening] doesn't want to do it right. He wants a photo opportunity with President Clinton."

Maryland already has enacted bans on assault weapons and cheap handguns known as Saturday night specials. In Glendening's first term, the legislature responded to his urging by limiting people to a single handgun purchase per month.

This year, Glendening originally proposed mandating that only high-tech, personalized handguns be sold in the state, but he could not generate the necessary political support. Gun owners, led by the NRA, argued that the technology isn't feasible.

In a last-ditch effort to derail the legislation, opponents tried last night to amend it to include police officers, who are exempt from the new requirements. When that failed, they tried to get exceptions to the mandates for armored car guards and people with physical disabilities who might have trouble manipulating locks.

"How in the world are they supposed to be able to defend themselves when this kicks in?" said Del. George W. Owings III (D-Calvert).

Those efforts failed, too. Supporters and opponents split primarily along geographic lines, with lawmakers from the Washington suburbs and Baltimore favoring the proposal and rural legislators voting against it.

Over the past four days, the NRA paid for a wave of television commercials that blanketed the state urging lawmakers not to vote for the measure. But Glendening said the effort backfired, gaining votes for the proposal among House members.

"Gun manufacturers can make safer guns, and they should be required to make safer guns. That's the substantive message. The political message is that the NRA is on the wrong side," said Glendening, who took a congratulatory call from the president a half-hour after last night's vote.

Glendening's proposal also would require firearm manufacturers to a provide Maryland police with a shell casing from each handgun sold in the state to help trace weapons used in crime. It would set minimum five-year sentences for some gun violations, require gun buyers to take two hours of safety training and prevent anyone convicted of a violent crime as a juvenile from owning a handgun until age 30.

Maryland's new restrictions come as other states also consider new control measures.

New Jersey's Republican Senate President Donald DiFrancesco proposed last week mandating personalized smart guns for that state. At least three western states are planning anti-gun referendums this year.

Those actions follow an agreement announced two weeks ago by the nation's largest handgun manufacturer, Smith & Wesson, and the federal government. Smith & Wesson said it will begin installing built-in locks on its new handguns within two years and market a personalized smart gun within three.

Advocates of more stringent restrictions on guns said the legislative initiatives, including Maryland's, are a sign of a national change in attitude. They said that while the public has always longed for more restrictions on guns, the shootings at Columbine High School in Littleton, Colo., in Michigan and elsewhere finally have pushed action.

"You build and build and build greater amounts of evidence, and then finally you get to the tipping point and bam, change comes very rapidly," said Stephen Teret, director of the Center for Gun Policy and Research at Johns Hopkins University. "I think we've come to the tipping point."

Handgun Control's Sudbay said that as the various states begin to line up, it could eventually force meaningful gun control from Congress. He noted that assault weapons bans and the Brady Bill first were enacted in state legislatures before gaining approval in Washington.

© 2000 The Washington Post Company

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