ANNAPOLIS – Sen. Timothy Ferguson, R-Carroll, doesn’t particularly care whether handguns are “smart,” he just wants law-abiding citizens to have the right to walk down the street with them tucked in a pocket.
Carrying a weapon can put “the fear of God into criminals,” Ferguson said, so he plans to go against the tide of Gov. Parris N. Glendening’s expected legislative gun control crusade and re-introduce his Self-Defense Act, or “right-to-carry” bill, in the Maryland General Assembly this session.
Ironically, Ferguson’s bill came to light at the opening of the General Assembly Wednesday, a pomp-and-circumstance affair with the governor and the state riding high on the biggest surplus ever in the state coffers. It’s a time when Glendening promises to fight handgun violence by mandating high-tech gun control safety devices – smart guns – by 2003.
“We’re going to lead the nation on this and for the first time get child- proof smart gun legislation through,” Glendening told Capital News Service in December. “I’m going to put the full resources of this office (behind the bill). It will save lives,” he said.
Ferguson knows he’s fighting an uphill battle in Annapolis again this year, but Glendening’s plan to mix childproofing and owner-specific technology into a new breed of gun fueled his desire for the reform.
Glendening’s proposal is “an asinine way of dealing with the real issues,” he said.
“I introduce this bill every year,” Ferguson said, and every year he has to withdraw it to prevent pro-gun-control advocates from reshaping it into a gun-control bill. This year, he’d like to fight harder, but he’s not sure what will happen in the General Assembly.
According to Ferguson, the way the law reads, the Maryland State Police has the power to deny an application for a concealed weapon if officers feel the applicant isn’t fit to carry a gun – regardless of whether that applicant meets all requirements for the permit. “My bill takes away the arbitrary yes/no decision of the State Police,” he said.
Lt. Joseph Barker of the Maryland State Police said citizens, 18 years and older, can get permits if they can show a “good and substantial reason for carrying a handgun” and if they meet other requirements, including satisfactory FBI background and reference checks. Ultimately, the State Police’s licensing division makes the decision, including restrictions for using the permit, according to Barker.
Ferguson has a problem with that process.
“You can have a totally clean background, can be legitimately in fear for your life, and the State Police can say `No'” to a concealed weapon permit request, he said.
Ferguson wants to change the law so permits are issued based on seven criteria, including a minimum age of 21, six hours of handgun practice, a satisfactory target-shooting test, a six-hour handgun law course and a written test.
If the Self-Defense Act becomes law, Ferguson said violent crimes in Maryland should drop by “double-digit percentages” within two years, a statistic that 38 states with more liberal “right-to-carry” laws have experienced.
“And I don’t know of an instance of any people misusing those laws in other states,” Ferguson said.
Handgun control advocates take exception to Ferguson’s theory. Handgun Control Inc., reported on its Web site that recent studies dispute the link between the states with liberal “right-to-carry” laws and corresponding decreases in violent crime rates.
Handgun Control said the NRA likes to use the declining crime rate statistics to lobby states like Maryland into changing their “right-to-carry” laws, a move Handgun Control said could lead to increased gun sales.
Greg Costa, Maryland liaison for the NRA, supports Ferguson’s bill. “It’s a matter of shifting the burden of proof from the citizen to the state,” he said.
To Ferguson, his bill is good for citizens – and for Maryland. He feels his bill can put a crunch on violent crime right now, with no new technology.
“It’s a winner,” he said.