|October 12, 2002, 09:34 AM||#1|
Join Date: February 13, 2000
Townsend Weighs Plan To Expand Gun Data
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Townsend Weighs Plan To Expand Gun Data
Sniper Attacks Push Rifle Issue to Forefront
By Lori Montgomery
Washington Post Staff Writer
Saturday, October 12, 2002; Page B01
Lt. Gov. Kathleen Kennedy Townsend is considering a plan to require gunmakers to record the ballistic fingerprints of some high-powered rifles sold in Maryland, a dramatic expansion of a program that now applies only to handguns.
Maryland is one of two states building ballistic databases in hopes of helping police trace ammunition recovered at crime scenes. This week, as a serial sniper with a high-powered rifle roamed the Washington region, state police officials urged Townsend to capture the fingerprints of some long guns, as well.
"We're going to explore it," Townsend said during a luncheon meeting yesterday at The Washington Post. "This is an idea that's come up in the last few days because we've seen that it might be very helpful for law enforcement. . . . Clearly, if this had been in place for many years, we might find out who" is responsible for the sniper shootings, she said.
Townsend, a Democrat running for governor, declined to say which guns should be included in the program and stressed that she has yet to focus closely on the matter. She said the topic arose Wednesday during a briefing on the sniper investigation with Col. David Mitchell, Maryland State Police commander.
Mitchell said he recommends adding about 30 semiautomatic rifles already regulated in Maryland to the fingerprint program. Buyers of those guns -- which have detachable magazines, folding stocks, flash suppressors and bayonet locks -- must submit to a background check and a seven-day waiting period but are not required to provide a fired shell casing to state police as handgun buyers must do.
"I don't have any information that would point to one of these regulated firearms as the weapon of choice for this particular shooter," Mitchell said of the sniper, who remained at large yesterday as police investigated an eighth fatal shooting. "But it certainly is possible, and time will tell."
Republican gubernatorial candidate Robert L. Ehrlich Jr., who last month questioned the efficacy of the fingerprint program, might consider expanding if it proves effective, said his spokesman, Paul E. Schurick.
"Bob said a month ago if the system is working, it should be expanded," Schurick said.
Gun-rights advocates condemned the proposal, saying ballistic fingerprinting is at best an unproven science and at worst a thinly veiled gimmick to discourage gun ownership. Since Maryland lawmakers approved creating the database as part of the Responsible Gun Safety Act of 2000, the system has resulted in no arrests.
"They've spent $5 million on a program that has caught no criminals. That's a pretty bad record," said James M. Purtilo, a Beltsville man who edits Tripwire, a 60,000-circulation gun-rights newsletter. Purtilo accused Townsend of trying to "blatantly politicize these terrorist attacks happening in the D.C. metro area."
Townsend denied trying to wring political advantage from the shootings. She supports most forms of gun control; Ehrlich generally opposes restrictions on the rights of gun owners.
Guns have been a major issue in the campaign, particularly after Ehrlich's remarks last month. Maryland has some of the toughest gun laws in the nation, and gun control is overwhelmingly popular in the vote-rich Washington suburbs.
Over the past 10 days, as the sniper has dominated news coverage, Ehrlich has struggled to defend his views. Townsend, meanwhile, has sought acceptable ways to stoke the gun debate. Yesterday, she began airing an ad on Washington area TV stations that bashes Ehrlich for voting against a federal ban on assault weapons, an ad Schurick called "shameful."
Townsend commented: "I'm not going to let him use this terrible situation to hide behind so people don't know what his record is. . . . I said I was not going to exploit [the shooting attacks], and I'm not exploiting it. I'm putting out his record."
In a wide-ranging interview with Washington Post editors and reporters, Townsend discussed a variety of issues critical to her election bid, including a federal grand jury investigation of a crime-control office that oversees some of her signature programs.
Sources familiar with the investigation say authorities are trying to determine whether the office used federal crime-fighting grants to promote Townsend's political ambitions. But after six months of subpoenas and FBI interviews, Townsend said she sees no evidence of criminal wrongdoing and accused the Republican U.S. attorney, Thomas M. DiBiagio, of trying to embarrass her politically.
"I don't think there is a good reason for him to investigate that office," Townsend said. "Sure, they probably could have done a better job of tracking [the disbursement of federal] grants. . . . What I'm objecting to is you don't need a federal grand jury to say you need to do a better job."
Through a spokeswoman, DiBiagio declined to comment.
Asked about the long history of police violence in Prince George's County, Townsend said she would not support changing the police bill of rights to force officers involved in fatal incidents to immediately cooperate with investigators.
"You ask law enforcement to do a lot, and I've been to a lot of funerals over the past year," Townsend said. "This is what has been worked out. The police have decided . . . this is appropriate. And I would not at this point want to pull that back."
Townsend also spoke at length about her differences with Gov. Parris N. Glendening (D), who will leave office in January. Glendening launched Townsend's political career when he chose her as his running mate in 1994. But his popularity has plummeted as slumping revenue has created a $1.7 billion shortfall in the state budget, and in recent months, Townsend has rarely appeared with him in public.
Townsend said she frequently disagreed with Glendening over the past eight years, such as when he pushed to build a stadium for the Washington Redskins in Prince George's County. "I liked having the stadium in the city," she said, where the team played in a stadium named after her father, Robert F. Kennedy. "I have some human feelings," she said.
While Townsend praised Glendening for increasing spending for higher education and public schools, she said she warned him this year to pull back on spending and "be very careful about the budget."
Even now, Glendening is failing to heed that advice, she said.
"The governor's not cutting at all," she said. "This is his last year in office, and he has different goals."
© 2002 The Washington Post Company
|October 12, 2002, 10:19 AM||#2|
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