Cecil lawmaker willing to deal for gun-ban backing


State Sen. Walter M. Baker, D-Cecil, who in March helped kill the governor's plan to outlaw assault weapons, now says he'll back a version of the bill next year -- so long as he can link it to passage of a bill that would shorten the appeal process in death penalty cases.

"I intend to hook the two issues together," Mr. Baker said yesterday.

"We have people who believe we should take the guns away from everybody and we should do away with the death penalty," he said. "And we have some who believe you shouldn't take guns away from anybody and we shouldn't do away with the death penalty. I say, let's look at the whole thing."

Mr. Baker, a conservative and longtime opponent of gun control, heads the Senate Judicial Proceedings Committee, which in March killed an administration bill that would have outlawed the possession and purchase of certain military-style assault weapons.

The same day, the House passed its own version of the bill, but the Senate never revisited the issue.

However, as reported yesterday in The Evening Sun, Mr. Baker said he has asked his committee to study the assault-weapons ban over the summer. At the same time, he wants the panel to review the long appeal process allowed people sentenced to death. No Marylander has been executed since the state restored the death penalty in 1978.

The system, he said, is "a farce."

"There's nothing wrong with the basic law," he added. "It's just the judges have toyed with it so much they think they can do anything. People sit on death row for 10 or 15 years. Isn't that cruel and unusual punishment, sitting on death row for 10 or 15 years?

"Let's make the death penalty meaningful and carry out the punishment promptly."

In Annapolis, Governor Schaefer's chief legislative officer, David hTC S. Iannucci, said Mr. Baker's offer to study the assault-weapons ban over the summer was "encouraging. I take it as a positive sign."

But he said he views the weapons bill and legislation concerning capital punishment cases as "two separate issues."

"The rationale for linkage [to the assault-weapons bill] is not readily apparent at this time," Mr. Iannucci said.

But Mr. Baker said the link is "one word: justice. The people who want to ban guns link guns to death. And if they want to link guns to death, I will go along with them. But let's link them to the death of the person who uses them wrongfully."

The governor's assault-weapons bill would have banned the manufacture, sale and possession of 39 assault weapons and would have given the state police the authority to add other models to the list of banned guns.

Mr. Iannucci said, "We're willing to enter into discussions" on new legislation for next year. But he said the administration still believes it needs the flexibility to add new guns to the list of banned weapons. Any statute that froze the number of guns "would make a mockery of the statutory ban," he added. Mr. Baker, however, has traditionally opposed giving such power to the state police or to any group outside the legislature. "I have a real problem with delegating authority to anyone but elected officials," the senator said. "We meet every year. We can look at [the list] every year. No problem at all."

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