A group of 16 local civic and political leaders gathered in the county office building yesterday, pledging support for a campaign to make Maryland the leader in handgun control.
Although other organizations have gotten behind the effort sponsored by Marylanders Against Handgun Abuse, Howard County is the first geographical region in which a group has been formed to support the gun control effort, said Vincent DeMarco, executive director of the handgun lobby. The group is receiving unofficial support from the County Council.
In 1988, Howard gave one of the strongest county endorsements in the state to legislation outlawing so-called Saturday night specials, Mr. DeMarco said.
"We are coming back together [in 1994] to pass comprehensive hand-gun control," Mr. DeMarco said at a news conference announcing Howard County's participation in a state-wide coalition called Standing Together Against the Gun Epidemic.
"We're here to thank Howard County for kicking off the campaign," Mr. DeMarco said.
The formation of the Howard County group is important statewide, Mr. DeMarco said, because "it shows the continuing strength of a coalition of clergy, police, community leaders and political leaders" favoring tough gun laws.
A similar group in Montgomery County will join the coalition next week, and one in Baltimore will do so in early January, Mr. DeMarco said.
The coalition wants the government to ban assault weapons, require licenses from all handgun owners, and ban the manufacture, sale and possession of any ammunition magazine or clip that can hold more than 10 rounds of ammunition without reloading.
The murder rate with handguns has "exploded" since 1987 but has remained constant with other weapons, Mr. DeMarco said. As a result, the public has a new attitude toward handgun ownership, he said. "The mood has completely changed. There is overwhelming support for what we're doing."
County Council member Shane Pendergrass, D-1st, presented Mr. DeMarco a letter pledging council support to the anti-handgun lobby.
"We agree that reducing the proliferation of handguns through reasonable handgun controls would substantially reduce the likelihood of death and serious injury to our citizens," council members said in their letter. "We applaud and support your efforts to educate the public about the dangers of gun proliferation and to encourage the enactment of comprehensive legislation to control handguns and assault weapons in Maryland."
All 16 participants at yesterday's news conference -- most of them local Democrats who will run for office in 1994 -- spoke about the need for tough, statewide handgun laws.