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Sunday, 3 November, 2002, 00:21 GMT
Snipers trigger gun law debate
Maryland gubernatorial candidate Kathleen Kennedy Townsend
Democrats are rallying behind the issue of gun control

At a small rally in Rockville, Maryland, two miles from the spot where the Washington snipers killed their last victim, Kathleen Kennedy Townsend quoted from a letter her father Robert Kennedy wrote to her on the day her uncle President John Kennedy was buried in 1963.

"As the oldest grandchild", her father wrote "You have a special responsibility ... be kind to others and work hard for your country."

Working hard for her country, in the view of KKT, as the chants of her supporters described her, means working hard for what she calls "common sense gun control."

It is an issue which has come into greater prominence in the aftermath of the Washington sniper attacks.

The rally itself had been scheduled for an earlier date. It was cancelled when the snipers struck on that day.

Democrat officials were passing a copy of the Baltimore Sun around.

This is an issue very close to my heart

Kathleen Kennedy Townsend, candidate for governor

It had just endorsed KKT in the race for the Governorship of Maryland against the Republican candidate Robert Ehrlich to succeed the incumbent Democrat Parris Glendening.

Mr Ehrlich has achieved an A rating from the leader of all gun control opponents, the National Rifle Association.

Kathleen Kennedy Townsend, who bears the Kennedy mark in her strong jaw, said: "This is an issue very close to my heart".

When she was 16, Robert Kennedy was himself shot dead by a young man firing a "Saturday night special".

Saturday night specials are now banned in Maryland but although the state has some of the strictest gun laws in the United States, residents can still buy a handgun if they have no criminal record.

Gun control, not gun ban

Gun control in America does not mean banning guns. It means limiting their availability.

Gun control advocate Ginni Wolf
Ginni Wolf's husband, a policeman, was shot dead by drug dealers

And in this campaign, it means, for one thing, "fingerprinting" all guns. And even this is hard.

Gun ownership is seen by many Americans as a civil liberty and by others as a civil necessity.

Mike Barnes, a former congressman who had a friend murdered with a handgun, looked around the pleasant centre of Rockville and the red leaves trees of autumn and remarked that Montgomery County, one of the richest of the Washington suburbs, had about 35 gun deaths every year.

"This is one of the most peaceful places in the United States," he said with irony.

The event had drawn leading gun control campaigners, aware that now is a time for to step up their lobbying.

Sarah Brady, the indefatigable wife of James Brady who was partially disabled by a bullet in the assassination attempt on President Reagan in 1981 hugged Kathleen Kennedy Townsend as a fellow sufferer.

Ginni Wolf, executive director of Marylanders against handgun abuse (MAHA) has seen a gradual tightening of the law in Maryland.

She would like more. And she knows about gun violence. Her husband, a policeman, was shot dead when he stopped a carload of drug dealers for speeding on a highway in 1990.

She says that gun control has become a more important issue in this election since the sniper murders. "People here are bringing this issue to the forefront", she said.

Her fellow campaigner in MAHA, Dick Willis, has personal experience as well.

Rally sign: 'No NRA'
Rally participants railed against the National Rifle Association
His son Charley was shot dead shortly after his 21st birthday party by someone who killed himself the following day.

"He left that a day too late", commented Dick Willis.

The latest of the Kennedys told me that she was confident of winning in the Tuesday election. But she has not found it easy going.

As Lieutenant Governor she is part of an administration which has run up a budget deficit and this has left her open to criticism from the Republicans.

But she has used the gun issue to hit back hard at Bob Ehrlich and if she wins, it could turn out to be the issue which made her Governor.

Key races




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29 Oct 02 | Americas
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