Gun control advocates claim support for sweeping legislation next year


Claiming support from the apparent governor-elect as well as a majority of the incoming legislature, gun control advocates said yesterday they would push to pass a sweeping plan next year making Maryland's gun laws among the toughest in the nation.

The comprehensive proposal would require licensing prospective handgun owners as well as regulating private handgun sales, a huge loophole through which criminals regularly obtain firearms.

Vincent DeMarco, executive director of Marylanders Against Handgun Abuse, said yesterday that the plan has the support of 25 state senators -- one more than the majority needed to pass it. In the House, he said, 75 delegates support the plan -- four more than needed for approval there.

Mr. DeMarco made the announcement at a news conference at the Episcopal Diocesan Center in Baltimore. The gun control group plans to have the measure introduced in the 1995 General Assembly, which begins in January.

If the plan is enacted, Maryland would join Connecticut, Hawaii and Illinois at the forefront of gun control legislation, said Joe Sudbay, legislative representative at Handgun Control Inc., a lobby group in Washington.

Mr. DeMarco said he based his calculations on the results of questionnaires returned by legislators. His math, however, may be a bit optimistic. One senator cited as supporting the plan said yesterday that he had not yet committed.

"I have not endorsed any piece of legislation or any general concepts," said State Sen. F. Vernon Boozer, a Baltimore County Republican.

Mr. Boozer said his office may have contributed to the confusion by giving an erroneous response to the questionnaire, but later corrected it.

Conspicuously absent from the list of supporters were Maryland's two most powerful legislators -- House Speaker Casper R. Taylor Jr. and Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller Jr. Together, they can easily make or break a bill.

Mr. Taylor, a Cumberland Democrat, said he has not taken a position on the plan.

"As a presiding officer, I'm not going to do that kind of endorsing before I ever see a bill," he said. "I have to wait and see how the rhetoric of the campaign translates out. Crime and punishment and public safety was one of the hot issues in the campaign. Whether that's going to translate out to be this kind of anti-gun legislation, I don't know."

Mr. Taylor is from Western Maryland where most of his constituents oppose gun control. He voted against last year's successful assault pistol ban, regarded as much milder than the comprehensive plan.

Senate President Miller, a Prince George's County Democrat, has not taken a position either, said his legislative assistant, John Stierhoff.

Mr. DeMarco plans to meet with the president in December.

Parris N. Glendening, the Democratic apparent governor-elect, supports the plan generally and has made it a top priority, said Tim Ayers, his chief of staff in Prince George's County.

"That is one of the foundations of what he ran on," Mr. Ayers said.

Like Mr. Glendening, though, legislators have only supported the plan's "general principles" pending their approval of specific legislative language.

Bob McMurray, a leading gun rights advocate in Maryland, said that support for such a bill may drop off as legislators learn the details.

"There's a big difference between five paragraphs consisting of two sentences each and a forty-four page bill," said Mr. McMurray.

Marylanders Against Handgun Abuse proposed the comprehensive plan for the first time last year in a 44-page bill. The House Judiciary Committee killed the measure.

If enacted, the plan would also:

* Expand the current list of banned assault weapons to include rifles such as the AK-47.

* Limit the number of handguns which a person can purchase or receive in a year.

* Ban the manufacture and sale of gun magazines that can hold more than 10 rounds.

In related news, Mr. DeMarco said yesterday that he will be leaving Marylanders Against Handgun Abuse in January to take a job with Handgun Control Inc., as national community outreach director.

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