ANNAPOLIS – Ever since he was 18, when he converted a surplus military rifle to a sports rifle, guns have been a way of life for David Eccles, owner of Eccles Shooting Sports here.
Eccles and other Maryland gun dealers have said they’re not sure how Gov. Parris N. Glendening’s gun control legislation will affect their business, but they view the law as just another step toward even stricter gun regulation.
The measure, signed into law April 11, is an attempt to make guns safer by requiring all handguns sold in Maryland be equipped with built-in locks by 2003 and external locks by October.
“The same people that leave guns around loaded … are going to leave the gun around loaded and unlocked,” said Eccles, a gunsmith of 33 years. “The same kinds of things are going to keep happening to the same kinds of people.”
The legislation will not protect children from handgun accidents, dealers said.
“Firearms by definition are a weapon. They’re supposed to be dangerous,” Eccles said. “That’s what people seem to be overlooking.”
Fueled by public fears that guns with built-in locks will be less reliable than their older, simpler counterparts, some dealers have seen sales triple since the law was signed.
One dealer who has seen increased business is Ed Springman, the owner of Eastwood Guns and Ammo Inc. in Aberdeen.
“You literally can’t keep a gun in the store without the newer technology,” Springman said. “For the first time ever, I hear people specifying they don’t want the guns with a lock in them.”
Sanford Abrams, vice president of Maryland Licensed Firearms Dealers Association, said that one day last week he sold five guns in the first two hours after opening. He usually sells one or two a day.
“The governor and the president are our two best salesman,” quipped Abrams, who owns Valley Guns in Parkville.
Because it is unclear how many manufacturers will make handguns with built-in locks, most dealers said they can’t predict how the law will affect their new gun sales. However, because the law does not cover used guns, dealers forecast an increase in those sales.
“Given a choice between a new gun with a lock they don’t really want and an older, good-condition gun with the older technology, most people are going to opt for what they’re familiar with,” Eccles said.
Sales aside, the biggest concern among dealers is that this new gun law is another step toward a ban.
“What they want to do is ban the private possession of guns, period,” Abrams said.
In October, Attorney General Joseph Curran Jr. called for a state prohibition on handguns.
“We must finally have the courage to say, ‘No more.’ The cost of handgun ownership is too great,” Curran said last year.
Glendening has never been a friend of gun advocates, as he made clear in January’s State of the State address.
“I hope the children of Maryland one day will think of handguns and cigarettes as relics of a past, unenlightened age,” he said.
Glendening is not alone in his crusade against gun makers. Cities around the country have filed lawsuits against the gun industry in an attempt to recoup damages caused by gun violence. One gun maker recently agreed to manufacture safer weapons in exchange for the guarantee that all pending lawsuits would be dropped.
It is because of these lawsuits that gunsmith Bill Gostomski said he refuses to work on guns with built-in locks.
Gostomski, who owns Gostomski’s Gunsmith Service in Mount Savage, said he worries that if someone gets hurt with a gun he repaired because a lock failed he could be held liable.
“The lawsuits are getting absolutely ridiculous,” he said.
Gun education and training for children and adults are better alternatives for safety than a gun-lock law, he said.
The law will do nothing to reduce gun-related crime either, Gostomski said. But, as a gun-dealer in Western Maryland, he said he doesn’t worry about crime.
“I own a gun shop and I haven’t even had a pry mark in 22 years,” Gostomski said. “They think of everyone up here as rednecks carrying a gun to protect themselves. I don’t even think about crime up here.”
Folks he knows own guns, he said, but they’re for sport and recreation.
Gun-lock law or not, customers will still want guns, and dealers will still have something to sell. Eccles said he will comply with the law but new handgun sales are such a small part of his business that he’s not worried. He said he’s content to continue building guns and refurbishing older models.
On a workbench strewn with stocks, barrels and shell casings sits a .375- caliber H&H Magnum rifle he built and sold to one of his customers for big game hunts in Africa. He’s also restoring an old buffalo rifle.
“It’s a piece of steel and wood and always has been,” Eccles said. “And it’s not going to hurt anyone if it’s handled properly.”