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Guns... or Not?

Tough Gun Law Amounts to Gun Ban in Maryland

By Susan Jones
Cybercast News Service
February 22, 2001


Even supporters of Maryland's tough new gun law admit it has created a "de facto ban" on gun sales in the state.

Maryland's gun "safety" law approved last fall requires gun makers to test-fire all guns shipped into Maryland so each gun has a "ballistic fingerprint" on record. (Each spent shell casing has unique markings that police theoretically could use to identify which guns were used in crimes.)

But some gun manufacturers said providing a spent shell casing for each and every gun shipped to Maryland isn't worth the time and money - especially since Maryland accounts for only about two percent of national gun sales.

In response to the ballistic fingerprinting requirement, some gun makers simply stopped shipping guns to the state, leaving dealers with fewer guns to sell.

Now even supporters of the gun law are scrambling to set things straight. House Speaker Casper Taylor Jr., an Allegany County Democrat, said, "None of the law was intended by anybody, from the governor on down, to be banning handguns in Maryland."

Maryland State Police Superintendent Col. David Mitchell echoed that sentiment: "We did not, nor did we ever intend for this legislation to be a de facto gun ban, nor did we intend this legislation to create an undue hardship on Maryland gun dealers."

Under a compromise worked out this week, Mitchell said Maryland state police will hire six retired officers to test-fire all handguns shipped to the state. State police will charge dealers $20 per gun to cover police costs, and the gun buyer ultimately will absorb that extra cost, much to the dismay of dealers who fear a squeeze on business.

Here's the catch: Maryland state police will test-fire the guns only for six months, until gun makers have "time to comply" with the law requiring them to provide the ballistic fingerprints.

The compromise doesn't satisfy gun dealers. They say they'll have trouble filling orders in six months, when state police stop collecting spent shell casings.

They also say the $20 fee for collecting spent shell casing amounts to a gun "tax." The Baltimore Sun quotes Sanford Abrams, vice president of the Maryland Firearms Dealers Association, as saying the $20 charge is "unconscionable." According to Abrams, the state is "going to make money off this."

Abrams and other gun dealers have suggested that gun dealers themselves collect the spent bullet casings and turn them over to police - an idea that state officials apparently don't endorse.

On March 1, a ballistic fingerprinting requirement also will take effect in New York. Several other states, including California, Florida and Massachusetts - reportedly are considering such a requirment.

Maryland officials say as more big states that adopt such requirements, gun makers will feel more pressure to set up their own ballistic fingerprinting system so they don't lose sales.

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