Members of gun-control group protest decision to back Morella


KENSINGTON - Local members of a national handgun-control organization are protesting the group's decision to stick with its endorsement of a Republican, Rep. Constance A. Morella, in the 8th District congressional race.

Montgomery County members of the Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence question the group's support for Morella in a year in which Democrats, more aligned with gun control than the GOP, have a chance to gain a majority in the House of Representatives.

In a letter sent yesterday to the Brady group in Washington, three leaders of the organization's local rank and file said Morella's Democratic opponent, Christopher Van Hollen Jr., "has not only voted right on the issues, but has led the fight in the Maryland Assembly for sensible gun laws."

The letter proposed that the Brady group alter its stance by offering a "dual endorsement" of Morella and Van Hollen - an option that the group's president, Michael D. Barnes, would not rule out yesterday.

The group endorsed Morella, in her eighth term, in the spring. It said it is standard to back incumbents who agree with its positions 100 percent of the time on key votes, as she does.

Sarah Brady, the group's founder, is a friend of Morella and has campaigned for her in the past. The group is named after her husband, former White House press secretary James S. Brady, who was shot and seriously wounded in the 1981 attempt on President Ronald Reagan's life.

While supporting Morella, the organization has been aggressively criticizing Republican Robert L. Ehrlich Jr., the party's gubernatorial nominee. It says Ehrlich has a "longstanding record in opposition to sensible gun laws" in Congress.

The Brady campaign isn't the only interest group to have a difficult time choosing between the liberal Van Hollen and Morella, who votes more like a Democrat than a Republican. Abortion-rights advocates and environmentalists also are torn in many cases between admiration for Van Hollen and loyalty to Morella, who has represented the district since 1987.

Karen McManus, a gun-safety advocate who signed the letter, said she isn't suggesting abandoning Morella. But she said Van Hollen deserved support because of his gun-safety record as a state senator and because Democrats need six seats to seize control of the House.

"They've already endorsed Connie. They can't really take it back," said McManus, treasurer of the county chapter of Million Mom March, a local arm of the Brady group. "I can tell you this is something that the rank and file are very concerned about."

Scores of members were polled by e-mail before the letter was sent, McManus said. Also signing were local gun-safety advocates Lillian Pubillones Nolan and Leah Barrett, a Chevy Chase mother of two whose 40-year-old brother was fatally shot in a robbery in 1997.

Barnes, who represented the 8th District before Morella was elected in 1986, said a dual endorsement would be unusual but did not rule it out.

He noted that the organization issued a dual endorsement in a 2000 race in California's 36th Congressional District.

Van Hollen worked two years ago to pass a Maryland law requiring guns to be sold with internal trigger locks.

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