THROUGHOUT his four decades as an elected official, J. Joseph Curran Jr. has remained unafraid to take controversial stands. Witness his call this week for a ban on private handgun ownership to stem the nation's tide of violence.
Vicious killing sprees in Littleton, Colo., Atlanta, Los Angeles and Fort Worth persuaded Maryland's three-term attorney general to seek drastic action. He'd like private handgun ownership restricted to law-enforcement officers, legitimate gun collectors and those who need guns for security reasons.
That's unlikely to happen, but Mr. Curran's announcement has reignited this volatile issue in Maryland. Gun-control advocates are going so far as to call gun ownership a God-given right. The attorney general got their attention.
Mr. Curran long has been a proponent of handgun control. He also took a public stand against the war in Vietnam in the 1960s, when that position wasn't wildly popular among his constituents in Northeast Baltimore.
And Mr. Curran, a Roman Catholic, didn't hesitate to support abortion-rights bills in the state Senate -- even though priests and other anti-abortion protesters camped out on his front lawn.
Courage, though, won't be enough to ban private handgun ownership. Even Mr. Curran seems to concede that he is echoing a sentiment, not a practical plan of action. Some of his other suggestions face far brighter prospects.
For instance, stiffer requirements for purchasing a handgun seem a logical -- and necessary -- step. Mandatory training is also long overdue. Requiring some type of child-safety lock on all guns sold in Maryland is another sensible step.
Mr. Curran's pronouncement ensures that gun control will be on the front burner during next year's General Assembly session. Gov. Parris N. Glendening has his heart set on passing legislation requiring "smart-gun" technology that would prevent handguns from being fired by anyone except their owners. That effort now seems tame compared with the attorney general's broadside.