Gun-safety bill fans, foes both claim victory


The legislative war over gun control is over, for the time being. But the propaganda campaign continues.

Gun control advocates will convene today at Johns Hopkins Hospital to celebrate the ceremonial signing of a bill designed to protect Maryland children from accidental shootings. They call it one of the strongest in the nation.

But opponents of gun control are snickering. They're telling their backers that they managed to water down the law into legislative pablum.

The new law requires that loaded guns be kept out of reach of children under 16. It will be signed officially May 26 and take effect Oct. 1.

Gov. William Donald Schaefer, Attorney General J. Joseph Curran Jr. and others pushing for greater gun safety will officiate at today's ceremony. Former presidential press secretary Jim Brady, gravely wounded in an assassination attempt on then-President Reagan, will also be on hand.

"What really is going on here is that the anti-gunners and Governor Schaefer were desperate for a legislative victory this year," said Robert A. McMurray, spokesman for the Maryland State Rifle and Pistol Association. "They got a watered-down bill and they're trying to make a silk purse out of a sow's ear."

Mr. McMurray insists that General Assembly committees "decimated" the bill by making violation a misdemeanor and not a felony as in other states such as Florida.

But supporters say changes made during the legislative session improved the bill in one crucial respect.

Vincent DeMarco, chairman of Marylanders Against Handgun Abuse, says Mr. McMurray and his allies inadvertently strengthened the bill when they managed to remove a provision that allowed less stringent storage requirements if a gun were equipped with a trigger lock.

They were so intent on removing the trigger lock provision they didn't realize they were tightening the bill, Mr. DeMarco said.

"We are proud to have the nation's strongest child accident protection law," he said. In states that have such laws, the number of shootings involving children has been dramatically reduced, he said.

And Mr. DeMarco says it was Mr. McMurray who was desperate for a victory against the increasingly successful gun opponents.

The law provides a $1,000 fine for violators.

Jail sentences proposed in the original proposal were deleted before it was passed.

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