Self-Inflicted Tragedies

December 19, 1990

Keeping firearms around the house can have tragic results. Baltimore storekeeper Gil Nam Sung became the latest to learn that lesson Saturday when the suspected burglar at whom he fired nine rounds turned out to be his own son. This grim lesson gets re-learned every year:

* Oct. 6, 1988: William Jason Welch, 15, of Chase, died after his cousin accidentally fired a .357 Magnum into his chest. Police said the cousin was showing off the weapon and had loaded it with a .38-caliber "wad cutter" bullet.

* Oct. 16, 1988: 14-year-old Maurice Cheatham died of a gunshot to the chest when family friend Carl Waters, 20, showed off a .38-caliber revolver police said he kept for self-protection.

* Dec. 30, 1988: Richard Edward George, 19, died at Shock-Trauma after shooting himself in the head with a .22-caliber pistol. Police said he had been showing his father's weapon to friends at his Harford County home.

* Jan. 10, 1989: Frank Matrantuono, just turned 32, was killed by a stray bullet fired by the victim of a holdup next door to his Belair Road pizza shop. Police said a man tried to rob a pharmacy next door, but that the pharmacist fired two shots from his licensed 9-mm. pistol, wounding the holdup man and killing Mr. Matrantuono.

* April 18, 1989: Durrell Moody, 16, shot himself in the head while playing with a .38-caliber revolver in the basement of his S. Augusta Ave. home. Five other people aged 12 to 19 were present at the time, police said.

* June 14, 1989: Stations broadcast the anguished pleas of a 10-year-old who had just shot his 8-year-old sister accidentally. The boy called 911 for help, sobbing, "I didn't know the gun was loaded. Please get my mom and dad. Oh, God."

The boy will have to live with the pain of that night all his life. As will Gil Nam Sung, whose son had given him the weapon after a robber killed his uncle at the Sungs' grocery store.

There is no easy answer, for life lost by accident is just as permanent as in the most heinous crime. What is apparent, however, is that without the proliferation of handguns, without the belief of so many people that possessing a gun will enable them to deal with crime, these accidents could not -- and would not -- occur.

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