For residents of the inner city of Baltimore, daily life has become a nightmare, with the possibility of violent death lurking around every corner. The newest statistics show 1990 has earned the dubious distinction as the most violent year here in decades. On Christmas Eve, the number of slayings in Baltimore hit nearly 300. It is not just criminals, either, who are victims; innocent bystanders, even children, are being gunned down in the streets routinely.
For all intents and purposes, the people of the inner city are living in a war zone. Ten times as many people died in Baltimore by homicide this year, for instance, than than in the entire nation of Sweden. Of course Baltimore is not alone; more than a dozen U.S. cities have experienced a record number of homicides this year -- though that fact should be of little consolation.
Officials attribute the increased violence here, and elsewhere, to two things: burgeoning inner-city drug use and the proliferation of guns, particularly semiautomatic handguns, which gained notoriety after the 1988 killing of five schoolchildren in Stockton, Ca., by a drifter armed with a Chinese made AK-47 semiautomatic rifle. The federal government responded with a lukewarm ban on the import of five makes of assault rifles popular among drug dealers. Still, there are more than 50 military-style assault weapons, and clearly they are finding their way into the streets.