ANNAPOLIS – None of Maryland’s strict gun laws could have stopped a Centreville man charged in the shooting deaths of two police officers two weeks ago from obtaining the shotgun believed used in their slaying.
The shotgun owned by Francis M. Zito, 41, the man charged in the Feb. 13 shooting deaths of two Queen Anne’s police officers, was given to him by his grandfather, Zito’s father Pasquale told the Baltimore Sun Feb. 16.
Zito’s grandfather Robert Larrimore died in 1997.
While handgun transactions between individuals in Maryland have to be reported to the State Police, personal transactions of “long guns” – which include shotguns – do not have to be reported, said Lt. Bud Frank, State Police spokesman.
But Zito’s grandfather could have violated federal law.
Federal law does not regulate gun transactions between family members unless the recipient of the weapon had prior convictions or had been involuntarily committed to a psychiatric hospital, said Mike Campbell, U.S. Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms spokesman in Baltimore.
Zito, who has been jailed for hitting his mother with a roll of Saran Wrap, has also been committed to psychiatric hospitals for schizophrenia.
Gun owners should be responsible for keeping weapons away from unstable family members or children, said Raquel Guillory, Gov. Parris N. Glendening’s spokeswoman.
“That’s an issue we can’t control,” Guillory said. “I don’t know what you can do to make (gun) owners more responsible.”
“We can’t regulate what people do,” she said.
Last year, Glendening made national news when he signed into law gun safety legislation mandating all guns in the state have built-in locks by 2003. Under the new law, external locks had to be installed on all guns by October.
But these laws wouldn’t have stopped Zito from getting his shotgun, gun law opponents said.
“No law in the world could have stopped” the two officers from being shot, said Sanford Abrams, vice president of Maryland’s Licensed Firearms Dealers Association. No law could have stopped Zito’s grandfather from giving him the shotgun either, he said.
“We pass laws against inanimate objects in Maryland,” Abrams said. “(They) are not effective. Laws against people are effective.”
“You can’t stop the nuts from doing what nuts do,” said Sen. Timothy R. Ferguson, R-Carroll. “Even if there was a law, this guy (Zito) would have gotten (a gun).” Instead of more gun laws, Ferguson said, Maryland needs more conservative judges. “If we had more conservative judges, we wouldn’t have as many killings,” said Ferguson, who believes sentences handed to criminals by Maryland judges are too soft. Last year’s gun laws were not aimed at restricting the possession of guns, but to keep children safe from accidental shootings, said Sen. Chris Van Hollen Jr., D-Montgomery. “No one was under the illusion that the gun safety law could end all violence in Maryland,” said Van Hollen, the lead sponsor of last year’s gun safety lock measure. “Gun safety law is not going to prevent an insane person from killing.” J. Joseph Curran Jr., Maryland’s attorney general, said in 1999 that outlawing the possession of handguns would reduce violence. The killing of the two Queen Anne’s County officers was a “terrible tragedy” and Curran “feels for the families” of the officers, said Curran’s spokeswoman Jamie St. Onge. But Curran refused to comment on the effectiveness of current gun laws. Guns are not the problem, people are, said Sen. Walter M. Baker, D-Cecil. “You don’t punish guns, you punish people,” said Baker, who represents part of Queen Anne’s County. Baker said he didn’t know if someone like Zito should be allowed to own a gun. Last year’s gun legislation was taken out of Baker’s Senate Judicial Proceedings Committee through a parliamentary maneuver by Senate leaders to save the bill from modifications. The Senate voted 26-19 to bypass Chairman Baker’s committee. Gregory Costa, a lobbyist for the National Rifle Association, declined to comment. Queen Anne’s County Sheriff’s Deputy Jason C. Schwenz, 28, and Centreville Police officer Michael S. Nickerson, 24, died last week from shotgun blasts when they approached Zito’s trailer home after responding to noise complaints. Zito, who was charged with several counts of first-degree murder, was not charged with illegal possession of a firearm. “We have bigger fish to fry” than to charge Zito on illegal possession of a firearm, said Queen Anne’s State’s Attorney David W. Gregory. Zito possessed “a run of the mill pump shotgun,” which any adult can own legally. Gregory said he would seek the death penalty. – 30 – CNS-2-23-01