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Maryland Legislature Approves Saturday Night Special Ban

April 12, 1988 GMT

ANNAPOLIS, Md. (AP) _ The first state law in the nation to ban the sale of cheap handguns known as Saturday Night Specials cleared the General Assembly and was sent to the governor, who has promised to sign it.

Despite a fierce lobbying effort by the National Rifle Association, the bill was passed Monday night with support from top state officials and Sarah Brady, wife of James Brady, President Reagan’s press secretary.

Mrs. Brady told legislators at an earlier hearing that a $29 handgun that would be banned under the Maryland law was used by John Hinckley in his 1981 assassination attempt that wounded the president and left husband partially disabled.

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Democratic House Speaker R. Clayton Mitchell said the 95-41 vote in the House of Delegates a few hours before the 1988 legislative session ended ″seems to be a first, a giant step forward.″

″I’m hoping Congress will look at what Maryland did,″ said Attorney General J. Joseph Curran.″That’s where this action is needed.

″It’s been a long time but unfortunately it seems like as the list of victims grows″ it becomes easier to pass gun control legislation, he said.

Gov. William Donald Schaefer, who helped move the bill through the legislature, said he will sign it into law unless he finds some unexpected legal flaws.

NRA lobbyists gave up their fight after watching the bill sail through the Senate on a 35-10 vote Saturday, but Charles H. Cunningham, state liaison for the association, said he will be back to renew the fight next year.

″I just hope it’s not a trend-setting thing where a lot of states start setting up boards,″ Cunningham said after the Senate vote.

The bill directs the governor to create a state Handgun Roster Board headed by the state police superintendent. The nine-member board will prepare a list of guns that can be sold in Maryland and will be required to withhold approval of:

-Guns that are inaccurate, poorly made, easily concealed and manufactured of cheap materials, characteristics common to the Saturday Night Specials said to be used by drug pushers and other small-time criminals.

-Guns made mostly of plastic or ceramic materials that can’t be readily detected by security systems at airports and public buildings.

-Guns in which the manufacturer’s serial number has been obliterated or altered.

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The bill prohibits manufacturers, dealers and private individuals from selling any guns not on the list, and provides fines from $2,500 to $10,000 for violations. It will only be illegal to sell the weapons, not to own them.

″We shifted the burden of proof. We put the onus on gun merchants to justify their guns,″ said state Sen. Howard Denis, Republican.

Four states, Illinois, Hawaii, South Carolina and Minnesota, have laws that ban guns based on the melting point of the metal, according to the lobbying group Handgun Control Inc. Guns with lower melting points are of poorer quality and thus cheaper.

However, both the NRA and Handgun Control agreed that no state has a law regulating guns on the basis of inaccuracy, ease of concealment, plastic or ceramic construction or the other characteristics addressed by the Maryland law.

″Clearly, this is going to add some impetus to other states considering gun control laws. This is an example we’ll be taking to other states,″ said Michael Beard, executive director of the National Coalition to Ban Handguns.

The ban on sale of Saturday Night Specials won’t take effect until Jan. 1, 1990. The board will be required to prepare a list of approved guns by July 1, 1989.