ANNAPOLIS – President Clinton lauded Gov. Parris N. Glendening’s gun- control measure Tuesday and watched as a beaming Glendening signed the first-of- its-kind proposal into law.
Clinton’s appearance at the ceremony was the capstone to Glendening’s stellar legislative session, which ended Monday, where he pushed through all but one of his key initiatives.
It also gave Glendening another opportunity to tout his biggest legislative victory this session and bask in national recognition, which could prove a boon if speculation that he’s gunning for a Cabinet position in a Gore Administration proves true.
The new law’s main components include mandates for built-in locks on all guns sold in the state by 2003, external locks on all guns by October and mandatory five-year sentences for gun-toting criminals. The bill passed the Senate, 26-21, and the House of Delegates, 83-57, and will be effective in October.
Clinton, who has been unable to move his gun control proposals through Congress, was in Annapolis to drum up public support.
“Congress should follow Maryland’s lead,” Clinton said. “You know, it is astonishing, in almost everything I have tried to accomplish as president, Maryland has been out there on the forefront of change, ahead of the other states in virtually every area.”
While gun control was Glendening’s biggest achievement, he was also able to pass a number of other substantial measures.
His budget was left mostly intact, his plan for the tobacco settlement money was approved and a proposal to expand health care coverage to include more poor children was passed.
Glendening would not directly comment on what his legislative success or Maryland’s role as a gun control forerunner could mean for any national aspirations.
He said he was “elected governor and I’m loving this job and we look forward to the next three years.”
Political colleagues, including Sen. Chris Van Hollen Jr., D-Montgomery, the gun bill’s Senate point man, have noticed Glendening’s higher national profile.
“He’s certainly on the national radar screen now,” he said.
U.S. Rep. Albert Wynn, D-Landover, agreed.
“This is called leadership and this will help the governor in his future aspirations,” he said.
But Glendening is not without his detractors.
“This is only about a photo-op. It has nothing to do with real-world legislation,” said Greg Costa, a lobbyist for the National Rifle Association. Costa said the bill has several unintended consequences because House members, who got the bill after a wrangle in the Senate, were asked not to amend the bill.
Glendening asked delegates to pass the bill unamended because he feared changes would kill the bill in a second run through the Senate.
The bill is flawed, said Costa and several legislators, because it only requires a gun to have a safety, not a built-in key or combination lock. Most guns are already manufactured with safeties. Opponents also have other technical problems with the bill.
The governor has argued that the intent of the legislation is clear.
Mike Morrill, Glendening’s spokesman, said the group should stop nit- picking the bill.
“They have done nothing but whine and complain. The president and the governor both said today that what they really ought to be doing is finding a way to help us promote responsible gun ownership and gun safety,” Morrill said.
The governor should stop making policy to promote politics, said Paul Ellington, State Republican Party executive director.
“Instead of just looking for national headlines, let’s worry about the safety of the people of Maryland,” Ellington said. “We need a governor of Maryland, not someone who’s trying to elevate themselves to the national level.”
Glendening’s influence was also felt in a several other key pieces of legislation this session. In several 11th hour deals, Glendening brokered compromises on an inheritance tax break and his teacher salary increases.
“At that stage, I appealed to (leadership) as governor and leader of the Democrats,” he said.
However, Glendening didn’t get everything he wanted. While he scored in 20 of 21 of his proposals, he couldn’t force the Legislature to pass a bill requiring some of the state’s 400,000 septic systems to be fitted with costly nitrogen removing devices.