Carroll State's Attorney Thomas E. Hickman outspokenly opposes a bill that would ban the manufacture and sale of 38 makes of assault weapons, even though the Maryland State's Attorney's Association supportsit.
Hickman testified last month at a legislative hearing againstthe proposal sponsored by Gov. William Donald Schaefer, which was passed by the House Judiciary Committee last week and will be debated on the House floor this week.
The Senate Judicial Proceedings Committee will conduct a hearing at 1 p.m. tomorrow on a companion bill that has pitted police, urban legislators and gun-control advocates against hunting and sporting enthusiasts, rural lawmakers and gun owners angered by government intervention. Hickman said a schedule conflict might prevent him from attending.
The bill's proponents contend that assault weapons have become popular among drug traffickers, gang members and other violent criminals. They say the guns serve no sporting purpose, are made strictly to kill people, and should be banned to curtail their spread and to protect police and citizens.
The bill's opponents say a ban would unfairly restrict the rights of law-abiding citizens and could leadto further gun prohibitions, while doing little to reduce crime.
It is uncommon for a member of the State's Attorney's Association -- composed of lawyers from the prosecuting offices in Maryland's 24 subdivisions -- to publicly oppose a position established by the association, said William M. Katcef, the group's legislative chairman.
Katcef said Hickman's opposition wouldn't hurt the credibility of the association so long as the Carroll state's attorney makes it clear he represents only himself.
"With the whole issue surrounding guns, people philosophically are pretty solidly fixed," said Katcef, an AnneArundel County assistant state's attorney. "People aren't shy about coming out and saying how they feel. In this case, at least one state's attorney felt strongly enough that he came out and expressed his opinions."
Hickman said he testified "as a person in law enforcement who looked at the practical side" of the legislation, which would ban military-style, semiautomatic weapons after July 1 and require individuals lawfully possessing such a weapon to obtain a permit from the state police for a $100 fee. He said he also represents the interests of Carroll residents.
In a letter submitted to the House committee, Hickman says the bill "will alienate many law-abiding citizens" by restricting access to certain firearms.
Based on a survey his office conducted of Maryland's other state's attorney's offices to determine reported assault weapon seizures and slayings, Hickman concluded: "It is rather apparent that assault weapons are not a problem." Twelve reported killings using assault weapons in Baltimore over the past two years show it is "not much of a problem there," considering that there have been about 600 slayings of all types, Hickman reasoned.
The state police, Baltimore City Police and other law enforcement agencies disagree. Baltimore City Police cite several incidents in the last month of assault weapon seizures and slayings and robberies in which the weapons were used.
The state police says the bill is "an authentic attempt to arrest the avalanche of assault-styled weaponry in Maryland." The agency says it represents "a reasonable balance" between the rights of sportsmen and the right of the public "to be safe from such non-sporting arms."
An owner of two semiautomatic rifles, Hickman says there is "tremendous concern" among semiautomaticweapon owners that the state's Handgun Roster Board would broaden the list of banned guns to include firearms used for hunting and targetshooting.
Delegates Richard C. Matthews, R-Carroll, Richard N. Dixon, D-Carroll, and Donald B. Elliott, R-Carroll, Howard, oppose the measure.
"We represent Carroll. How else would we vote?" said Dixon.
Elliott called the bill "another step in the erosion of the Second Amendment right to bear arms," adding that the Carroll delegationoffice received numerous calls opposing the bill.
Delegate Lawrence A. LaMotte, D-Carroll, Baltimore, supports the bill, saying the majority of those calling his office, including Carroll residents, advocate the ban.
Carroll County Sheriff John H. Brown also submitted testimony opposing the bill, saying it is "unwarranted," would "make criminals of now law-abiding citizens," and would "create an unnecessary strain on already overburdened law enforcement agencies."