By Ananda Shorey
WASHINGTON – At the Arrow and Bullet store in Hagerstown, owner Bill Scally said he doesn’t see much good that can come out of President Clinton’s proposal to require a license to buy a handgun.
“It is just a redundancy of the law that is going to create another level of bureaucracy,” said Scally, adding that all the licenses in the world will not stop criminals from killing.
But gun-control groups welcomed the proposal that Clinton outlined in his State of the Union address Thursday. They said it is needed to help save lives even in a state like Maryland, which has some of the toughest gun-control laws in the nation.
“These proposals are common sense and in no way do they infringe on a law- abiding citizen to own a gun,” said David Bernstein, a spokesman for Handgun Control Inc. in Washington.
Clinton’s licensing plan was just one of several measures that he outlined Thursday to crack down on gun violence. He also proposed requiring child safety locks on new handguns, banning large-capacity ammunition clips, funding research into “smart-gun” technology and adding prosecutors to more vigorously enforce gun crimes that are already on the books.
The president’s licensing proposal would require would-be handgun buyers to provide a photo ID from the state showing that they had passed a criminal background check and a gun-safety course.
“People who own guns should show some competency,” Bernstein said.
Currently, someone who wants to buy a handgun in Maryland has to have photo identification proving he or she is a resident of the state, according to a Maryland State Police spokesman. They also have to pass a background check through the National Instant Check System.
“There is a list of crimes that would keep a person from purchasing a handgun,” said Lt. Joseph Barker, the police spokesman.
But Jeff Reh, general counsel at Beretta USA Corp., said that licensing gun buyers is not necessary because of the current national background check.
“With NICS the ability to purchase a firearm lawfully is required every time they try to buy a firearm,” Reh said. “So there is no need to have a permit.”
A spokesman for the National Rifle Association said Clinton’s proposal to require licenses has nothing to do with crime and stopping criminals and everything to do with infringing on the rights of the American people.
“In this country it shouldn’t be about having to get licenses to exercise freedom of speech,” said Bill Powers, the spokesman. “That is contrary to the principles on which this country was founded.”
Bernstein said that it is time for the federal government to follow the lead of Maryland and enact tough gun-control laws.
“We feel the president showed tremendous leadership in his speech last night,” he said. “We hope Congress will act on the proposals.”
But Powers said gun licensing would be going too far.
“You don’t license freedom,” he said.