ANNAPOLIS – When the General Assembly opened in January, Gov. Parris N. Glendening wanted to restrict the use of bulletproof body armor by private citizens, but by the time he signed the bill Friday, the new law only applied to convicted criminals.
The new law, which takes effect Oct. 1, “will protect officers from those who would use body armor in the commission of a crime,” said Mike Morrill, Glendening’s spokesman.
Criminals caught wearing body armor while committing a violent or drug trafficking crime will be charged with a misdemeanor punishable by 5 years in jail and a $5,000 fine.
But even one opponent of the original bill, who said it only affected “law abiding citizens,” said the bill is “useless” in its present form.
“You think a felon will go to the State Police and apply for a body armor permit?” said Sanford Abrams, vice president of the state Licensed Firearms Dealers Association. “I don’t think so.”
The bill, among more than 200 Glendening signed Friday, faced fierce opposition even before it was introduced in the Senate Judicial Proceedings and the House Judiciary committees.
“You go in with a negotiating position,” Morrill said. “And the governor is signing the bill, which means he accepts it.”
In order to save the bill from dying in Maryland’s two crime and justice committees, Glendening agreed to amendments that eliminated restrictions on the purchase of body armor by private citizens.
Instead, only criminals with drug trafficking or violent crime convictions will have to show good cause to apply for a body armor permit.
“It was a compromise,” said Senate Judicial Proceedings Vice Chairman Leo E. Green, D-Prince George’s. “I think it’s a good way to start.”
Jerel Booker, legislative officer for Glendening, told the Judicial Proceedings Committee last month that Baltimore police confiscate about 100 pieces of body armor each year.
State Police spokesman Lt. Bud Frank was not available for comment.
“Frankly, we don’t want criminals to have the same advantage that we do,” State Police Col. David B. Mitchell told Judicial Proceedings last month. “We want them at a disadvantage.”
“We’ll see if some lives are saved,” Green said Friday. “That’s the key.”