Curran Report Calls for Unprecedented Restriction on Handguns; Seeks to End Most Handgun Ownership

October 20, 1999
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On the six-month anniversary of the murders at Columbine High School, Attorney General J. Joseph Curran, Jr. today took the first bold step toward making Maryland the most handgun-free state in the country. Through the release of his report, A Farewell to Arms: The Solution to Gun Violence in America, Attorney General Curran outlined the first step toward making Maryland the first state in the nation to outlaw handgun ownership except in very limited circumstances. Curran’s report contains a three-part plan to reach his goal of restricting the sale and possession of handguns to only those who can demonstrate a legitimate law enforcement purpose or those who can guarantee their guns will be used only in regulated sporting activities.

"It is time to stop kidding ourselves," Curran said. "Guns beget violence and violence simply begets more guns. If we don’t change the culture in this country and admit to ourselves that guns are costing us too much in terms of deaths, dollars, and other untold suffering, we are never going to reverse this epidemic of violence."

Against the backdrop of an array of illegal handguns confiscated recently by the Baltimore City and Montgomery County police departments, Curran explained that Congress’ tortured attempt to require background checks at gun shows in the aftermath of the Columbine massacre was the last straw for him.

As detailed in the report, over 35,000 people die every year from firearms, and another 100,000 are injured. An average of twelve children are killed with a gun every day. In Maryland, more people die from firearms than motor vehicle accidents - well over 700 a year. In 1996, more than twice as many Marylanders were murdered by handgun than in Canada, Germany, Great Britain , Japan, Australia and New Zealand combined. Nine out of ten murders of children worldwide occur in the United States.

Curran emphasized that contrary to popular perception, the majority of firearm-related deaths are not homicides, but suicides. "Our tragedy of gun violence is not just a problem of law enforcement, but also of public health and consumer protection," he cautioned. "Until we recognize that the horrific headlines about mass shootings in our schools and churches are only part of the story, we will not stop all the dying."

Curran also stated that in addition to the human suffering from gun violence, we pay dearly in economic terms. Medical costs range from $2.3 to $4 billion annually, of which taxpayers pay about 67%. Estimates of total costs, including lost productivity, pain and suffering, and criminal justice resources, range between $20 and $112 billion.

"I have added up these costs - the premature deaths of too many children, the teenagers consigned forever to wheelchairs, the lonely senior citizens taking their lives in moments of anguish, the billions of dollars we could be spending elsewhere - and these costs are too great. In a country of 270 million people and more than 200 million guns, we must finally put the brakes on. We cannot confiscate the handguns people already own, but there must be a moment in history where we say, ‘no more.’"

Curran’s three-step blueprint to close the door on widespread handgun ownership proposes several interim measures designed to reduce specific categories of firearm death and injury. To reduce unintentional shootings, teen suicides, and criminal assaults with stolen guns, Curran calls for health and safety regulation of handguns at the state and federal levels, including Governor Glendening’s "smart gun" initiative. Congress should put firearms under the jurisdiction of the Consumer Product Safety Commission, and Maryland should impose health and safety regulations through either legislation or Handgun Roster Board regulations. Curran intends to present his report to the Governor’s Task Force on Child-Proof Guns on November 8 in College Park, Maryland.

"It is beyond absurd that we impose safety standards on everything from toys to toothpaste, while we allow handguns to be made any old way manufacturers decide is profitable," Curran stated. "We must insist that guns be as safe as possible, with child-proofing devices, smart gun technology, warning indicators that guns are loaded, and any other safety device the gun industry’s formidable powers of innovation can produce. If the gun companies can make handguns ever more lethal, so guns can kill more people more efficiently, they can certainly make handguns safer. To this end, I intend to fully support the Governor’s "smart gun" initiative, and I applaud him for his leadership."

Curran also appeals to the General Assembly to reinstate strict liability against the gun industry so that it may be held accountable in Maryland courts for the harms its products have caused. By ensuring that Marylanders are able to join the surge of lawsuits against the gun industry springing up around the country, Curran explained, "we will provide manufacturers incentive to make guns safer and to help keep them out of the hands of criminals. We will also keep Maryland from becoming a safe haven for unsafe guns the industry dares not market elsewhere." Curran also revealed that he is looking into bringing a lawsuit against the industry, including investigating whether the industry may be violating consumer protection laws in marketing guns to children or in other advertising practices.

As the second part of his blueprint, Curran proposes several measures to assist law enforcement efforts to reduce criminal homicides and firearm injury. Pointing out the inconsistency of allowing people to own handguns simply on their own "say-so" that they are mentally stable and non-violent, while we do extensive investigations of people who want a permit to carry a handgun, Curran calls for fingerprint licensing and training of everyone wishing to own a gun. To obtain a license, people should be found, on the basis of an investigation, not to have a "propensity for violence," and they should provide evidence of being qualified and trained in the use of handguns.

"We require more of people wishing to drive a car than we do of those owning a firearm," Curran stated. "The law now permits a person with a known propensity for violence or mental instability and no experience whatsoever in operating a handgun to walk into a store and, as long as he has no criminal record, to take a handgun home. It is no wonder so many people die."

As the final step of his three-part plan, Curran calls for a change in our "gun culture." Like attitudes toward smoking and wearing seatbelts have undergone radical change, so too must people begin to view handgun ownership as dangerous behavior. Curran points out that despite being overrun with 70 million handguns in this country, only a minority - 16% - own all these guns which are causing so much harm.

"Why should we all endanger ourselves and our children every time we go into a movie theater or a hotel lobby where people are permitted to carry guns?" Curran asks. "What about when your child plays at a neighbor’s house, where a handgun is hidden in the upstairs closet? We must make people realize that they no longer want to tolerate this behavior."

To put teeth in this public information campaign, Curran asks the General Assembly to take the lead and make guns in public accommodations illegal. Second, he calls upon everyone else - educators, law enforcement, business owners, health care professionals, and especially parents - to begin the effort to change people’s minds about how far they are willing to endanger themselves by tolerating the choice of others to have a handgun. "We must get people talking to each other about the dangers of guns and gun ownership. That is how attitudes change," Curran said.

Finally, Curran demands that our ultimate goal be to outlaw handgun ownership except for those with demonstrated law enforcement and recreational purposes. "Only by turning off the spigot will we really end this nightmare," he said. "It cannot happen overnight. But I look to a time when - ten, twenty, thirty years from now - people will look back and say, ‘That is the moment when they turned it around - the violence began to stop.’"

For Further Information Contact:
Frank Mann
Special Assistant to the Attorney General
(410) 576-6357