On April 3, an amended version of Maryland Gov. Parris Glendenings gun bill passed the House of Delegates by an 83-57 vote.
The vote handed Democrats yet another political victory in a year in which presidential and congressional elections appear likely to be turned into a national referendum on the right to keep and bear arms.
Less than two weeks after the measure appeared headed for legislative limbo, the state House of Delegates approved Glenednings "Responsibility Gun Safety Act of 2000." Advocates describe the measure as the most far-reaching state gun control law in the United States, while opponents claim it really doesnt do anything new.
The bill, which had already passed the Senate, mandates external trigger locks on newly sold handguns beginning on Oct. 1 and requires built-in locking systems after Dec. 31, 2002. It also prohibits violent juvenile offenders from owning a handgun until the age of 30 and requires manufacturers to provide the state ballistic "fingerprints" of shell casings on new guns.
The Maryland gun measure reached the House floor after passing the House Judiciary Committee on March 31 by a vote of 14-7, with six Republicans and one Democrat opposing the measure.
But the final bill that passed was substantially less restrictive than the one originally put forward by Glendening, who had sought a requirement for electronic "smart gun" technology. Those elements had to be stripped from the bill to avoid a Senate filibuster that would have killed the measure.
Glendening managed to keep the gun bill alive during a rough-and-tumble legislative session by withholding an estimated $100 million in funding for pork-barrel projects important to individual lawmakers until it was clear the measure would pass both chambers of the General Assembly.
Commenting on passage of the Maryland bill, the National Rifle Associations chief lobbyist, James Jay Baker, said, "The good news, for now, is that law-abiding gunowners in Maryland will not become gun control guinea pigs on whom so-called smart guns will be tested.
"The real effect of this fundamentally flawed legislation remains unclear," Baker said. "In recent days, even proponents of this package have expressed concern that much of the language of SB-211 is vague and subject to broad and contradictory interpretations.
"Unfortunately, passage of bad law is a symptom of the gun control-at-any-cost political strategy on the part of certain Maryland lawmakers," Baker added. "In an election year, some politicians cant seem to resist looking for a national media platform by pushing for new restrictions on law-abiding gunowners, even when those restrictions wont have any impact on the criminal misuse of guns or in the prevention of accidents. Its hard for citizens to be heard and the system to work properly when the governor bypasses normal legislative procedures andunabashedly twists arms with the states budget resources."
As if to underscore Bakers comments, President Clinton called Glendening to offer his congratulations. Meanwhile, Glendening, who takes over the chairmanship of the National Governors Association in July, predicted other states would follow Marylands lead.
"Today we set a new agenda for gun safety, not only for Maryland but for the entire nation," the governor told a news conference after the vote.
"I predict that within 18 months, one-half dozen to one dozen states will move forward on legislation similar to ours. I predict that it will be almost impossible for gunmakers to manufacture guns without internal safety locks. The liability simply will be too great," Glendening said.
House approval followed a raucous two-hour debate during which Speaker Casper Taylor threatened to clear two packed spectators galleries of boisterous pro-gun activists. The bills supporters also managed to turn aside 10 attempted amendments, each of which would have doomed the legislation to a return trip to the Senate, where opponents planned a filibuster.
In the days leading up to the April 3 vote, the NRA bombarded Maryland airwaves with television ads that pictured the bill as a threat to the safety of gunowners by showing Glendening fumbling with a handgun as a narrator reminded viewers that "your safety is no laughing matter."
Gun bill opponents, including Republican House Delegate Anthony ODonnell, complained that the measure threatened to infringe on gunowners while doing little to aid safety.
"This bill, in my opinion, contains the worst kind of tyranny a government can foist on its citizens ... because it is false hope," ODonnell declared just before the vote was taken.
"None of this stuff works, and you all know it!" he said.
Gun control opponents also criticized the governor for what they described as a thinly veiled bid to curry favor with Vice President Al Gore in hopes of winning a job in a new Democratic administration.
Glendenings gun control bill would essentially do nothing, because its mandate for integrated locks on new handguns is already met by current safety devices, some Democratic lawmakers said during consideration of the measure.
According to Iris Birenbaum, administrator of Marylands Handgun Roster Board, safeties are already standard on about 90% of all semi-automatic handguns now approved for sale in Maryland.
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