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Handgun Manufacturers
Stop Shipments To Maryland 

Several handgun manufacturers have halted shipments to Maryland because
of its new law that requires manufacturers to create a "ballistic fingerprint" for
every handgun sold in the state. 

By Lori Montgomery and Katherine Shaver - Washington Post Staff Writers 

The makers of several popular handguns have halted shipments to Maryland
in reaction to a first-in-the-nation safety law that requires manufacturers to
create a "ballistic fingerprint" for every handgun sold in the state. 

Glock, Browning and a handful of other gunmakers say they are withholding
gun shipments while they try to comply with the new law, which was passed
this year and hailed as a major political victory for Maryland Gov. Parris N.
Glendening (D). 

A growing number of states are considering requirements for ballistic
fingerprints -- spent shell casings that are catalogued by state police and used
to identify a gun's owner in the event the gun is used to commit a crime. 
Maryland gun dealers and some state officials fear that until laws elsewhere
are sorted out, the gunmakers will not change their manufacturing processes
to satisfy the demands of tiny Maryland, which accounts for just 2 percent of
handgun sales nationally. 

In the meantime, dealers say, Maryland gun owners are being denied access
to legitimate firearms, a situation that could drag on for months. 

"We have inadvertently created an unintended consequence of a de facto ban
on some weapons from some manufacturers," said House Speaker Casper
R. Taylor Jr. (D-Allegany), a key sponsor of the gun safety measure, who has
recently come under intense criticism from gun advocates in his rural Western
Maryland district. 

Gun buying has not slowed in the state, judging by the number of gun
purchase applications filed with Maryland State Police. In October and
November, 5,962 people applied to buy handguns in Maryland, compared
with 5,059 during that time in 1998, said state police spokesman Greg
Shipley. (Gun purchase applications in Maryland were inordinately high last
year -- 6,394 in October and November -- in part because of widespread Y2K
concerns, police said.) 

Still, some dealers say the situation is seriously hurting business. Sanford
Abrams, owner of Valley Guns in Baltimore and vice president of the Maryland
Licensed Firearms Dealers Association, said there are 3,000 handgun
models that may be legally sold in Maryland. Since Oct. 1, he said, he has
been unable to obtain about 65 percent of them. "I have a dozen special
orders I can't fill, representing $10,000 in December sales," Abrams said. "If it
lasts the year, half the gun shops in Maryland are going to be closed." 

This week, Taylor sent a letter asking Attorney General J. Joseph Curran Jr.
(D) to reinterpret the law to make clear that gunmakers unwilling to supply
shell casings may continue to ship their weapons to Maryland. The casings for
those guns could be created by alternate means, possibly at a state police
testing range, Taylor proposed. 

Yesterday, Curran responded in a letter, saying state police have authority "to
resolve the issue of whether a dealer may sell a handgun when a manufacturer
has neglected or disregarded its duty to furnish a shell casing." 

But, Curran wrote, the law clearly requires gunmakers to create the shell
casings. Weapons shipped without them can be seized, officials in Curran's
office said. 

"Someone's got to comply with the law on casings. And the manufacturer
should be doing it," Assistant Attorney General Robert Zarnoch said. 

At issue is a law known as the Responsible Gun Safety Act. It was passed last
spring after an explosive legislative battle that pitted Glendening and his
supporters against powerful lawmakers who oppose limits on gun ownership. 

At the time, the fight focused on another aspect of the bill, which requires
handguns sold in Maryland after January 2003 to be equipped with internal
trigger locks. The so-called smart guns are intended to protect children from
accidental shootings. 

The trigger-lock provision was also a national first, and its passage drew
hearty congratulations from President Clinton, who attended the bill signing in
Annapolis. 

The ballistic fingerprint provision was less controversial. It requires gunmakers
to ship a single shell casing with every handgun manufactured after Oct. 1 of
this year. The dealers are required to send the casing to state police along
with the name of the buyer when the gun is sold. Police then enter that
information -- the casing's distinct markings, the type of weapon it came from
and the gun owner's name -- into a database. 

Many manufacturers have had no problem complying with the law. Since Oct.
1, state police have registered about 150 shell casings from 14 manufacturers
-- "overwhelming evidence of gun manufacturers' intentions to comply with the
law," said state police spokesman Shipley. 

"We haven't heard from anyone who has said, 'We'll never again ship a gun
for sale in the state of Maryland,' " Shipley added. 

However, he said, some gun manufacturers have told state police that they
are delaying shipments to Maryland until they can devise a way to
accommodate other states' demands for ballistic fingerprints -- particularly
New York, which has a new law taking effect March 1. States considering the
use of ballistic fingerprints include California and Massachusetts, according to
the National Rifle Association. 

One gunmaker taking the cautious approach is Browning, based in Morgan,
Utah. "From a manufacturing standpoint, we have to make sure we adhere to
the requirements set in each state," said Travis Hall, the gunmaker's director
of marketing. Maryland, for example, wants the casings shipped in small
manila envelopes. "New York may want it another way. California may want it
a third way. As manufacturers, we'd like to make things as consistent as
possible. 

"We understand the laws, and we certainly are going to work hard to be in
compliance," Hall said. "But we are a law-abiding company. And we're not
going to ship a product if we're not in compliance." 

Paul Jannuzzo, general counsel and vice president of Glock Inc. in Atlanta,
said his company, too, has halted shipments to Maryland. But the gunmaker
hopes to comply with the law and resume Maryland sales soon, he said. 

"Frankly, it may not be worth it" to serve such a small market, Jannuzzo said.
"But the other side of the equation is that we can't let the Kennedy Townsends
of the world decide whether we're going to sell guns in the state," he said,
referring to Maryland Lt. Gov. Kathleen Kennedy Townsend (D). "We can't
succumb to that kind of pressure." 

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