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Can anyone from Maryland or surrounding states verify this?

Despair Fills Md. Gun Dealers,
Few Weapons Will Meet Trigger-Lock Law's Standards

By Matthew Mosk
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, December 31, 2002; Page A01

The nation's first state law requiring all new handguns to be outfitted with built-in trigger locks will take effect in Maryland tomorrow, a measure gun control advocates predict will save lives but one that has gun dealers fearing for their livelihoods.

Only six models of handguns and integrated trigger locks now on the market would meet the law's standards, and manufacturers of other models have started cutting back their distribution in Maryland, several dealers said yesterday.

Sanford Abrams, of the Maryland Licensed Firearms Dealers Association, said limiting the sales options to such a small array of models will be painful, and he offered a gloomy forecast for the dealers' long-term survival.

"It will have a disastrous effect," he said. "Companies are not and will not be compliant. There will be hundreds of models that will no longer be available."

The dealers are hoping that legal action or the party change in the Maryland governor's office will help blunt the impact of the provision. And a spokeswoman for Gov.-elect Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. (R) yesterday repeated Ehrlich's campaign pledge to "take a fresh look at this law, as well as all laws surrounding the sale of guns."

But dealers were not optimistic that such efforts would prove meaningful. "Short of seeing the General Assembly pass a new law, I don't see a lot of hope for intervening," Abrams said.

The gun control advocates who aggressively lobbied to see the measure put in place said they are not overly concerned about gun dealers' potential hardships.

"How do you balance saving the life of a child against the prospects that sales might decrease somewhat?" asked Sen. Brian E. Frosh (D-Montgomery), one of the chief sponsors of the measure. "To me, when you look at the balance, it comes out heavily on the side of saving lives."

The trigger-lock provision was part of a raft of gun control measures the Maryland General Assembly passed in 2000 despite bitter opposition from the rural reaches of the state and the National Rifle Association, which enlisted its 50,000 Maryland members to phone lawmakers just before key votes.

Passage came on the strength of support from Gov. Parris N. Glendening (D) and from legislators in the state's larger, more liberal-leaning counties, and it prompted President Bill Clinton to make his first and only trip to a state capital to attend a bill signing.

At the time, Clinton called the law a model for how government can help eliminate accidents that can occur when children play with guns. It will do so, advocates said, by limiting the sale of handguns to those with an integrated locking system that can limit the use of the weapon to people who hold the key or know the combination.

"This will save lives," said Matt Fenton, president of Marylanders Against Handgun Abuse Inc. "It's the way of the future."

Lillian Pubillones Nolan, the Montgomery County chapter director of the Million Mom March, said the law will help protect Maryland's children.

"Tragically, we have too many instances where children wind up victims in an accident because guns are left unattended," Nolan said. "If this means saving lives, I think responsible gun owners should see it as a minor inconvenience."

But gun enthusiasts remain doubtful about the potential benefits.

"The problem with this is, you're trying to make the object safer instead of the individuals who handle it," said Richard Berglund, president of the Maryland Arms Collectors Association.

In the meantime, store owners worry that the law could lead to serious financial problems.

"In the short run, it might increase business, as people buy the last of the new guns" manufactured before the Jan. 1 deadline, said Steve Schneider, who owns Atlantic Guns of Silver Spring. "But in the long run, it's a scary prospect."

Schneider said he believes that it is unlikely that gunmakers will take steps to remodel their weapons just to comply with the laws of one small Mid-Atlantic state. He compared it to asking automakers to build cars with the steering wheel on the right-hand side just for sales in Maryland.

"I hope they will do it," Schneider said. "But you have to wonder how much they feel the need to suit Maryland's whims."

Already, there are rumblings that some in the industry plan to sue the state to test the validity of the law.

Carl Roy, owner of Maryland Small Arms, an indoor shooting range and weapons distributor in Upper Marlboro, said he is banking on the chance that such a lawsuit will lead to a temporary restraining order, halting enforcement of the law.

"I believe it's a restraint of trade," Roy said. "It's basically going to ban new guns in the state. We've already had a number of distributors saying they won't ship guns into the state."

Frosh noted that the final version of the measure was a compromise with gun enthusiasts.

The measure mandated the locks, created mandatory sentences for gun crimes, required ballistic "fingerprinting" of shell casings from new guns and required those wishing to purchase a handgun to complete two hours of safety training.

But Glendening agreed to eliminate provisions that would have required even more advanced high-tech locks, such as those that would unlock only if sensors in the grip recognize the owner's fingerprints.

Gov. James E. McGreevey (D) made New Jersey the first state to require the "smart gun" technology this month. But that law won't take effect until three years after the state's attorney general determines that the technology is sound.

© 2002 The Washington Post Company
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