ANNAPOLIS – Gun ban protesters, 150 strong, packed the Senate Judicial Proceedings Committee room Tuesday, forcing the chairman to repeatedly gavel them to order during a two-and-a-half hour marathon hearing on a bill to prohibit assault weapons.
“Politics and emotions” are driving the gun legislation, said Mark Booth, of Adamstown, in his written protest. The measure fails to contribute to “public safety” and does little to control violent crime, said the Persian Gulf War veteran and a bus driver in Montgomery County.
“It has everything to do with destroying the rights of every peaceable gun owner in the state of Maryland,” he wrote.
Sponsored by Sen. Robert Garagiola, D-Montgomery, and in the House by Delegate Neil Quinter, D-Howard, the bill would designate 45 types of weapons, including the Bushmaster type of rifle used by the Washington, D.C.,-area snipers and the famed Uzi, for prohibition. It also would designate a Handgun Roster Board to maintain a list of prohibited weapons.
The legislation would extend the 1994 federal ban on assault weapons set to expire on Sept 13, 2004.
Violators transporting or possessing an assault weapon would be guilty of a misdemeanor and subject to maximum penalties of imprisonment for three years and/or a fine of $5,000. Using such a weapon during a crime could add up to 20 years to a criminal’s sentence.
At the hearing, Garagiola emphasized that U.S. Justice Department statistics indicate a 6.7 percent decrease in gun murders across the country since the advent of the ban.
Beretta U.S.A. Corp, Maryland’s leading gun manufacturer, argued the assault weapons ban would impose a “broad, far-reaching ban on certain types of semi-automatic weapons” and would have an adverse effect on public safety.
CeaseFire of Maryland, a leading gun violence prevention group headed by Executive Director Leah Barrett, pointed to the results of a recently-done survey, which demonstrated that a majority of the voters approved of the legislation.
One in five law enforcement officers slain in the line of duty between 1998 and 2001 were killed with assault weapons, Barrett said.
“Assault weapons are the guns of choice for criminals,” Barrett said.
The Associated Gun Clubs of Baltimore, said CeaseFire is “intentionally fabricating this statistic.”
Sen. Nancy Jacobs, R-Harford, agreed and said the two snipers who terrorized the region in October 2002 did not purchase the guns in Maryland, because they would have been denied.
Jacobs questioned CeaseFire’s statements and added, “Evidently, criminals don’t follow the law.”
– 30 – CNS-2-10-04