Gun laws effective tomorrow


All handguns sold in Maryland must come with a lock, and dealers must send ballistic "fingerprints" to the state police, under a sweeping new firearms safety law that takes effect tomorrow.

The legislation, intended to prevent accidental shootings and help police solve crimes, is one of almost 300 bills that will become law. They include measures to step up inspections of nursing homes and increase scholarships for prospective teachers.

The firearms law, pushed through the General Assembly by Gov. Parris N. Glendening last spring, imposes a series of requirements on the sale of handguns and sets minimum sentences for some gun offenses.

For the next two years, handguns will have to come equipped with a trigger lock that attaches to the outside of the gun. After that, all new handguns will have to come with built-in locks. That requirement, the first of its kind in the country, was at the heart of the heated debate over the governor's bill.

Of the provisions that kick in tomorrow, the most debated is a requirement that each handgun shipped into the state come with a shell casing fired from it. Upon sale, dealers must send the casing to the state police so ballistic information - the distinct markings unique to each gun - can be entered into a database.

Sanford Abrams, owner of Valley Guns in Parkville, said most of the major gun manufacturers have said they will comply with the law, while a few smaller producers will stop shipping to Maryland.

Among those expected to continue doing business here are Beretta USA, Smith & Wesson, Sig Arms, Glock and Ruger.

Watching strictly

State Police Maj. Thomas Bowers, commander of criminal enforcement, said if any manufacturers, distributors or retailers sell guns without providing the casings, the state will seek a court order to enforce the law.

"It's not our intent to arrest people into compliance," he said, adding that dealers must comply with the law to retain their licenses.

Yesterday, the state police unveiled the computerized database designed to store records about the casings and track who each gun was sold to. About 30,000 guns are sold every year in the state, police said.

Col. David B. Mitchell, state police superintendent, said Maryland is the first state to launch such a system.

He said police hope to use the $1.8 million system to identify the owners of guns used in crimes from casings recovered at crime scenes. The database "will significantly increase the speed and accuracy of criminal investigations," Mitchell said.

Monitoring quality

Also becoming law tomorrow is a package of bills aimed at protecting residents of Maryland's nursing homes.

Sen. Michael J. Collins, who helped shepherd the package to passage, said the legislation was prompted by a General Accounting Office report criticizing the quality of care in the state's nursing homes.

The laws will increase the number of inspections at each nursing home, set up a new oversight body, set minimum staffing levels and require each facility to have a quality assurance program.

One bill authorizes the state to supplement the pay of nursing home staffers so facilities can attract and keep better workers.

Collins, a Baltimore County Democrat, said the bills put Maryland in the forefront of nursing home regulation nationally. "We're going to see that the laws be implemented aggressively," he said.

As part of the state's effort to deal with a growing teacher shortage, Maryland is raising its scholarships for students who agree to teach here from $2,000 to $5,000.

The state Department of Education estimates it will need 1,600 additional teachers next fall.

New laws

Here are some of the new laws that take effect in Maryland tomorrow:

Driving: Motorists no longer have to appear in person each time they renew their driver's license. They must go to an MVA office once every 10 years, not every five.

Tobacco: Cigarettes cannot be sold in packs of less than 20, a measure aimed at making them less affordable for juveniles.

Organ donation: State employees can get paid leave for surgery to serve as organ donor.

Lead paint: Landlords must give new tenants a copy of an inspection certificate showing the property is in compliance with state law.

Wine: Maryland wineries have expanded authority to offer samples at community events.

Civil War: South Mountain, site of an important clash leading up to the Battle of Antietam, is designated a state battlefield park.

Bicycles: The MTA must adopt rules to allow riders to bring bikes aboard MARC, subway and light rail trains.

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